Saturday, April 25, 2009

And The Right Running Shoe For Me Is?

Probably the ones I was born with.

For the most part running is easy. I know some of you may feel otherwise but go with me for a moment here. Lately I've been online looking for some new running shoes. As I looked at various shoes, checking tread, last shape and the position of flex grooves, it occurred to me why I was so comfortable picking a shoe without having tried it on. I also realized I am in a unique position to comment on the subject of picking a shoe because for almost 9 years I worked selling running shoes at RunTex here in Austin, Texas. During that time I got to observe a lot of feet, shoes, and people running.

By nature I've always been an observant person and typically I've been known to notice things that others might not. As I was looking at shoes online, something that had occurred to me during my time at the store came back to me. While I worked at the store after dealing with perhaps thousands of runners of all ages and abilities, a certain pattern emerged. Over time I started noticing the runners who ran only in racing flats, or the most minimal shoes for all of their runs, be they long or short, fast or slow, were typically the runners who were injured the least. Because of this, even though I probably wasn't consciously aware of it at the time, I did more of my runs during triathlon season in my racing flats as well, only running in trainers during the winter when I tended to run longer and slower.

This past Christmas, I was given a new book on running by Matt Fitgerald, Brain Training for Runners. In it he says,

"...But what is certain is that shoes make most of us run unnaturally..."

Much of what he concludes about running shoes and their effect on running mechanics comes from research he has done in his career as a runner and fitness writer/expert. I came to many of the same conclusions from observations made while working at RunTex and, oddly, by closely following the NBA via fantasy basketball for a number of years. One of the intriguing features of fantasy basketball at the time was the inclusion for many years of the Injured Reserve Listings. Because of this I took note of the steady increase in the number of cases of Plantar Fasciitis suffered by NBA players. While growing up, and playing in elementary school, high school and college, I never came across one athlete with the condition. So I suspect the problem is twofold. One issue is the society's movement toward a more sedentary lifestyle as a whole where walking was less and less common. The other problem is the shoes we wear. Between the endorsements athletes get for wearing a particular shoe versus a shoe that is made specifically to move in the same manner as their feet, and the industry's reliance on more and more shoe "gimmicks" to sell their products, many, many feet have suffered. Even those of highly conditioned athletes.

For a more detailed explanation and description of how deep the rabbit hole goes check out this April 25, 2009 article from the UK, The painful truth about trainers: Are running shoes a waste of money? Also if you haven't seen this article about how humans evolved as runners which was a huge factor in determining our survival as a species check out Born to Run from a 2006 issue of Discover Magazine.

After reading Matt's book, the Discover Magazine article, and the UK article, and incorporating my own observations and experience, my thoughts on selecting my next running shoe boils down to keeping these 5 things in mind as I buy:

1) The shoe should fit snugly. Common wisdom is for a thumbs width at the end due to the swelling of the foot during long distances. The reason typically sighted for this was the loss of toenails. But the length the shoe can be shorter if the height in the toebox is adequate and/or the materials the shoe is made of are selected carefully. The most notable observation on the recommended additional length is that it tends to destroy the integrity between your foot and the shoe. What I mean by this is extra space tends to be the cause of slippage in the heel, improper placement of the arch and thus arch support, and fore foot slippage where the whole foot tends to slide down to the front of the shoe.

2) The shoe should resemble the foot it is going on. There is a place for shoe shaping in this world, but the shapes of the feet and the shoe should resemble one another. If the last (or mold around which the shoe is designed) is straight anatomically then the foot going into it should be as well. That being said what makes a straight foot is not just the absence of an arch but the relationship between the heel and the big toe and the angle of variance. More often running shoes are sold based on what they prevent the foot from "doing" (many times based on a set of assumptions relating to the presence or absence of an arch) and not how the foot actually works. A shoe shaped like the foot it is on is one that is more likely to "move" in conjunction with the foot it is on. This is really what you want.

3) The foot should be considered in relation to the rest of the body in any gait analysis, and by association, so should the shoe. Basically, "the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone and the thigh bone is connected to the.." You get the picture. Your body is a collection of lines and angles and these are all acted upon by the forces movement places on them. It is absurd to think that "pronation" or "supination" are defined by a single articulation of the foot. Nor can they be addressed by a shoe without considering that shoes affect on the body structure as a whole. Nature has given us these marvelously complex yet functional things called feet and unfortunately most of the shoes we wear do not allow them to function as intended. By comparison, even the most technologically advanced shoe is woefully inferior. Think the counting blocks you used in kindergarten versus the computers used to trade securities on the global monetary exchanges or a Cray supercomputer. Try looking shoes that allow your feet to work as they were designed which is in conjunction with the rest of your body and stay away from the ones that promise keep you from doing something.

4) Price does not always follow function. Unfortunately the most expensive shoes are typically the most rigid and the least "foot-like." Basically, the more companies seem to put into a shoe the less it acts like one. Shoes like the top line Nike Shox which can retail for around $115.00 or the Adidas 1 at $250.00 (the one with the microprocessor that is supposed to "think" for you) aren't really designed to work in conjunction with your foot. Look at it this way. Most top end running shoes provide most of their cushioning/technology in the heel in the form of extra cushioning, stabilizer bands, or heel counters. Try this. Run in the shoes you think you want. Then run barefoot. Basically one thing will become pretty clear as soon as you run barefoot. You won't be running heel to toe. You can't. At least you can't for very long. Your foot isn't designed for you to run that way at all. So all the technology most companies put into the heel of their shoes is being wasted. Mostly it just amounts to added weight making the shoe about as useful as a vintage high heel pump (I'm being a bit sarcastic, but you get the idea). So if you can't run the same way in the shoe as you would run barefoot, keep looking until you find a shoe that allows you to.

5) My Tai Chi Sifu said "American shoes make feet stupid." I didn't know what he meant until I had spent a lot of time walking and running barefoot. From the experience I learned the foot is an incredibly complex sensing organ designed to "find" the proper alignment on contact, going from soft and flexible to rigid in stable in an instant. Healthy, intelligent feet always strike neutral from my experience and observation. But by buying into the massive amount of marketing hype and selecting shoes that actually impair our feet's sensing ability, we have effectively blindfolded our feet and tied them behind our "backs." It is no wonder we see so many injured runners. Ironically we are more prone to believe our injuries are the result of our own poor biomechanics or ambitious training and racing goals thanks to effective marketing of shoe companies than the very shoes we are spending all this money on. Instead of throwing money at the problem, we should spend more time cultivating actual foot awareness, strength and intelligence.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tuesday Is In The Book

Not much to report here. Had a solid day of training. No classes today so this was all about me. I will say yoga was intense. There aren't many times these days in a yoga class that I "cry uncle" because the intensity is unbearable. But today I was singing it and I just flat out quit more than a few times. It was very humbling. But that is part of learning to listen to your body and know your limits.

The entire class focused on Garudasana or Eagle Pose. As much as I'd like to say there are benefits to this pose for triathletes, I'd have to say any such benefit found in the pose is subtle at best. Eagle pose has you wind your legs like a twisting vine by taking the front thigh over the back leg and hooking your foot around your calf. Then you squat on the standing leg and balance as the arms are entwined in a similar fashion. A couple of poses with this as a focus and my shoulders start to scream. A whole class like this and I'm in some serious pain/distress. And as much as I love yoga, I am a triathlete through and through so, I have no problem watching a class pass me by in order to protect my body by keeping my larger objective in mind.

After yoga I had lunch with some friends, took a nap and then went to ride my bike. Tuesdays are usually a steady state ride focusing on maintaining consistent power. Today's ride lasted for two hours. I am seeing some gains in fitness from this ride since I changed the route to include a gradual climb that lasts from 7 to 9 minutes depending on gearing and the wind. Over the course of the ride I averaged an even 20mph with a max HR of 150 and an average HR of 135.

Monday, Monday, Monday

So the best thing I can say about Monday is that it finally came and I made it through the weekend without incident. In the last couple of weeks, I took on an additional yoga class and have been consistent in my own training except for running due to the foot issues.

But that changed today. First up was the boot camp I lead. Because I was still recovering a bit and there was a fitness assessment on the schedule for the workout, I only did about 50% of the work. But 50% was plenty.

After the assessment was done, we got down to work. Here's what we did.

Swing Kicks x2 1min each
Pogo Stick x2 30sec each
Running Stairs (2 flights) 5min total
4 x 50m sprints with drill recovery
15 min core work

The fitness assessment included wall squats, bicep curls, pushups, shoulder press, and core work.

After this I ran for 45 min. I still have a bit of pain in my foot but a visit to my Naturopath led to some clarity as to why I still feel the pain even though the bone in my foot is properly positioned now. She and my acupuncturist will be working on this to address the underlying cause of the dislocation. I'll probably write more on that later. Anyway it just feels good to get a clearer understanding of what is going on and have a plan to get it addressed. Not running as much as I'd like is starting to piss me off. But I have to admit my strength gains are probably due to the extra time I've been given because of it. ;)

I ended the day teaching yoga.

Friday, April 17, 2009

3 Seconds And 12 Watts Later

This week was a test week. I was to get a baseline on all three sports, swimming, cycling and running. But because of my foot and the previously dislocated bone in it (there is still a bit of inflamation, but other than that no real pain to speak of) I skipped the run test and opted to add a 30 second pushup test in its place. Just for kicks. 62 perfect pushups in 30 seconds. Not bad. But there was definitely some pain involved in the exercise. But now that I've done it I think I'll do this test as well when I test again next month. I may see if I can work up to a 60 second pushup test. Who knows? I think the pushup results are encouraging though I must admit at the time I wasn't sure what they would mean for my other test this week.

The swim and bike results were encouraging as well. About 12 watts on the bike up from last year's test in November and 3 seconds per 100m faster in the swim. I think I'm seeing this because of the change in focus in my training. I've decided to devote more of my time working on strength. One reason for this is I didn't have that much to begin with. The other is because I'm not getting any younger.

By focusing on strength and muscular endurance type work to transform my body into one that can handle more work loads in my training, and keeping the triathlon specific work focused on technique, I'm allowing my body the time it needs to become more powerful and proficient at the same time without the accumulated stress of weeks of endurance based training. So first I will adapt myself to the loads, then I will adapt to carrying sports specific loads. One of the things I observed was as I became fitter in my prior racing, I also seemed to become weaker physically. Some of this was probably my scattershot approach to nutrition back then. But some of that was probably also due to the nature of the stresses that come along with racing.

I think the most encouraging thing I am taking away from this week's tests is on the bike I am now able to ride in the big chainring. Last year, I had to acknowledge that I didn't posses the strength or fitness to race effectively using larger gears. Now even though I am lighter, I had no issue with holding a big gear in either my time trial test or the test I conducted on the trainer a few days later. In fact I was riding the majority of the time trial in either a 53x12 or 53x13. No way I could have pulled that off last year.

I think there are a couple of reason that account for the early season progress I'm both seeing and feeling. The largest component has to be rest. I am making a concerted effort to place rest front and center in my training schedule. Basically what this amounts to is in addition to the "no working out sleepy" rule there is now a 9:30pm curfew. I brought this rule back with me from Colorado after I spent some time on my friend's back porch watching the sun and moon rise and set for a few days. It occurred to me that nature operated quite well within the parameters of these movements and I should probably follow her very obvious example in my own life. More than any other single workout, gadget, or supplement I've ever tried this single change by far has had the most immediate and verifiable impact.

I also have to acknowledge the huge benefit I am now enjoying by employing both functional bodyweight training, yoga, and accessible core work into my weekly routine. I owe so much of the power and endurance I have to this I can't begin to express. The thing is I haven't really begun my endurance training yet but because of the workouts I've put together I know I am now starting from a position of strength versus ground zero. I can train harder and recover faster. And I still have a full time job.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday AM Boot Camp/PM Yoga

The day started with Boot Camp and ended with me teaching my Monday Yoga for Athletes class at Professional Cycle Works. I almost didn't make it to the class because of the 50 or so mile drive out to Liberty Hill to see my Chiropractor to have the dislocated bone in my foot worked on in the middle of my day. But the drive was totally worth it. The pain was down to about a 5 -- which is manageable. But I was still leery of running on the foot so I thought it was best to visit him one more time before giving it a try. Good thing I did. Turns out the bone was still a little out of its socket and needed to be put in a touch more. Now I don't really feel pain at all in the foot when using it. Just to be safe, I'm going to wait about a week on the running. And even though I cut it pretty close, I still made it back for yoga.

This morning's boot camp was intense. I focused the class on upper body strength and endurance work. Everything integrated the core. Here is what we did:

1. Standard pushups 30 seconds
2. Standard pullups (with bands or on bar) bands for 1min on bar for 30 seconds
3. Wide pushups 30 seconds
4. Wide grip pullups 1min or 30 seconds
5. Military pushups 30 seconds
6. Chin ups 1min or 30 seconds
7. V pushup 30 seconds
8. Overhand chin ups 30 seconds or 1 min depending on bar or band usage.

Then we did intervals in the parking garage combined with stairs and repeated the above strength workout for good measure. Not too bad for 60 minutes of work.

Yoga was focused on lower leg stability, so there were quite a few lunges and balance poses which we held for a bit. Things are looking up. Can't wait to try and run next week.