What’s in a Shoe? Cushion.

Cushioning is another place where you’re going to see or hear the word minimalist. I’m going to stick with high cushion and low cushioned shoes as terms to avoid confusion.  Cushioning is usually talked about in millimeters (mm). As we have seen in recent years, there are shoes out there with barely anything under your feet, aka barefoot running shoes, and those with cushioning over an inch thick (an inch is 25.4 mm).

The theories on why one shoe is better for runners abound and often contradict one another. The idea behind high cushion is that it reduces impact forces and thus reduces injury. What does the research say? Research does not support a lower injury risk or less muscle fatigue with a higher cushioned shoe. It is the alignment of our lower leg that changes impact forces, and the alignment of our leg is changed due to sensory input our brain receives as we run.

Don’t fret all is not lost my high cushion loving runners. Here are some things we know about running with and without cushion.

Heel striking runners should not run in low cushioned shoes. It can be hard to tell if you are a heel, midfoot, or forefoot striker. The most reliable way is to look at the bottom of your shoe or have someone watch you run (when you’re not paying attention to your foot strike, because you’ll alter it). If you have more wear on the heel of your shoe, you’re a heel striker. About 80% of runners are, it’s not a bad thing, so long as you wear the right shoes. If the wear on the sole of your shoe is on the forefoot, you’re a forefoot striker. This is pretty rare and is usually sprinters and shorter distance runners.

Higher cushioned shoes can cause instability in the ankles and hips, especially, for beginning runners who have not developed the ankle and core strength to tolerate the instability. This instability can also be a problem on trails, which are already uneven. Some high cushioned shoes compensate by having a wider sole, although, this solves SOME of the instability it adds the problem of a wide ass shoe. A wider sole can get stuck between rocks easier. Also keep in mind that a wide ass shoe sole does not always translate into a wider toe box.

High cushioned shoes can protect the bottom of your feet from rocks, roots, and other nasties. As we age we lose some of the natural cushioning on the bottom of our feet making a higher cushioned shoe possibly a better option for runners as they age.

Heavier runners (over 170 for men and over 160 for women) are going to want a shoe with stiffer cushioning rather than the pillow soft stuff because of the compression that occurs when you land. If you have super soft cushion, it’s not providing you with much protection.

What I want you to take away from this whole series on shoes is everyone is an individual and research results are an average. Sometimes if researchers look at individual runners there is a difference. It could just be the runner’s belief (placebo effect) or other biomechanical differences between runners, but if it makes a difference for you, stick with the shoes or dump them as appropriate.

Wear what makes you happy and don’t be afraid to dry new stuff.

Happy running.

What’s in a Shoe? Heel to Toe Drop.

Why do we care about heel to toe drop? Well, because it’s one of the aspects of a shoe that have people thinking it could help or contribute to injuries.

The heel to toe drop of a shoe is the difference of the sole’s thickness at the heel compared to at the toe of the shoe. Most shoes have a heel to toe drop of 10-12 mm, while minimalist shoes have a heel to toe drop of less than 4 mm. To give you an idea, an inch is 25.4 mm

For clarity’s sake, I want to be clear on what I mean by minimalist in this post. There are two major tenets of minimalist: first, the amount of heel to toe drop and second, the amount of cushioning. This post is talking about heel to toe drop, which I’ll use instead of the term minimalist. If amount of cushioning comes into play in this post, it will be clearly indicated.  If anyone is interested the other tenets are weight, added motion control technology and flexibility. Here is a scientific article on how a minimalist shoe is defined.

The most recent research says there’s no difference in injury rate in runners who run in a lower drop shoe as compared to those who have a higher drop shoe so long as the runners who have switched to lower or zero drop have done so with an adequate transition, which we’ll talk about in a second.

A lower heel to toe drop could be good for people with a neuroma or arthritic changes in the big toe joint because it places less pressure on the forefoot. However, they may not be good for people with plantar fasciitis or Achilles/posterior tibial tendonitis because a lower heel to toe drop requires more extension in your Achilles, knees and hips.

Transition to a lower or zero drop shoe is critical, and it can take weeks, so before you buy your zero drop shoes, make sure you’re committed to the transition. You should start by wearing your zero drop shoes for a 1-2 miles of your runs and then increase a little each week. If you start to feel soreness in your lower leg or knee, don’t increase the distance at all and think about backing off a little. This is true whether your new to running or a more experienced runner because most people walk around in shoes with a 10-15 mm heel to toe drop.

Research on body weight compared injury rate in runners in the Asics Piranha, 9mm to 4.5 heel to toe drop, and Asics Gel Cumulus, 23 mm to 13 mm heel to toe drop.  The runners who were selected to run in the Pirahna’s did a 26-week transition to the shoes. The results showed runners over 165 lbs (the average for the study group) had an injury rate four times higher than those under 165 lbs. The researchers also looked at the type of weight, so was the higher body weight due to muscle mass or height as compared to someone who is overweight due to the amount of fat they are carrying on their body. The results showed no difference, which lead to the conclusion that it is the weight regardless of where it comes from that is correlated with the higher injury rate.

What does lower injury risk when it comes to heel to toe drop? Running in shoes with different heel to toe drops. This makes your musculoskeletal system adapt and become stronger under different circumstances.

Happy running. Next up is amount of cushion.

 

What’s in a Shoe? Stability.

Everyone’s Feet pronate. Pronation is when your foot rolls inward to distribute the forces of impact as your foot makes contact with the ground. Normally, this is about 15%. The arch of your foot is the biggest factor in your pronation.

There are three basic types of shoes as far as stability goes. A neutral shoe, which allows your foot to move in its natural way; a stability shoe, which gives your foot some assistance to not over pronate; and a motion control shoe, which gives your foot maximal support to not over pronate.

If you go into a running store to purchase your shoes, they are likely to watch you run and walk in bare feet and then with various shoes on. They are trying to determine if you pronate, supinate beyond what’s normal. Their recommendations for shoes typically follow this pattern:

People with normal arches will typically run in either a neutral or stability shoe.

Those with low arches or flat feet typically use a stability or motion control shoe. Flat footed runners typically overpronate meaning their foot rolls in farther than it should toward the big toe. Because of this, a stability shoe is usually a good option. However, if you see that the outside of your shoe’s sole is being worn faster than the rest, you’ve got too much control going on in the shoe and need to switch to something neutral.

Heavier runners (men between 160-180 and women 140-160) who over pronate will likely need more than just the average stability shoe. Look into the motion control shoes to help with the overpronation.

Those with high arches under-pronate (supinate) and so typically do best in a neutral shoe. A little note here: Women have a greater quadricep angle and wear down the outside of their shoes more quickly than men, but it doesn’t mean you supinate.

Over or under pronation can place you at high risk for particular types of injuries. Overpronation causes extra stress and tightness in the muscles. Too much motion in your foot can cause calluses, bunions, runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendinitis.

Under pronation (supination) places extra stress on the foot, which could lead to you developing ITband syndrome, Achilles tendinitis, and plantar faciitis.

The problem with all of this information is the research doesn’t really support it. It’s all theory. Now, I’m not saying you should throw out your tried and true running shoes and go with something different as far as stability. What the research supports is choosing the amount of stability that you are most comfortable in. This may take some trial and error. You can pull on a pair of shoes and they feel great in the store, but when you take them for a run, they just don’t work. This is why you should always check the return policy of a store before you buy the shoes.

Pronation can change as you become a more experienced runner because the muscles and tendons of your feet and ankles become stronger. When I first began running, I overpronated, then I supinated for a while. When you go to get new shoes, try some different things on. You may find your feet have changed and you’re more comfortable in a different shoe.

The stability of a shoe won’t necessarily impact your ability to run faster either. The issue will be the weight of the shoe. Heavier shoes are going to slow you down. For every 100 g  of shoe weight you can anticipate a 0.8% decrease in speed. The more stability you have in a shoe, the heavier it’s going to be.

The big take away from all this is, the stability of a shoe isn’t going to reduce your injury risk. Go with what is comfortable, but check in every once in a while to make sure your favorite shoe, is still your favorite.

Happy running. Next up is heel to toe drop.

What’s in a Shoe?

Overwhelmed by the shoe choices at your local running store? Well, you’re not alone and if you shop online there are even more options. A common occurrence in the running community is that whenever we have a new ache or pain we blame our shoes. And yes, shoes can contribute to aches and pains, but we like to blame shoes because it’s an easy fix and it means it’s not us.

We don’t like to think it’s our training load, lack of strength, a muscle imbalance or some other thing that will take months to change. We want it to be something easy, so we can get back to running as much as we want as soon as we want.

This desire for shoes to fix our problems and make us the best runner possible has lead me to my next series of posts.  There will be a post on the following shoe features stability, heel to toe drop, and cushion. In each post I’ll cover things like will it reduce the risk of injury? Is it best for a certain type of foot arch, pronation, wide feet, foot strike? Is it best for a specific surface? Is it best for a beginning runner/experienced runner? And will they make me faster?

First, I want to cover some general shoe information. You should replace your shoes every 300-500 miles. The range can change depending on the durability of the shoe itself and on you as a runner, such has how hard you land with each stride. Running on the road will wear your shoes out faster than running on a trail, but the way you run has more of an impact than where you run. As you become a more experienced runner, you’ll know when your shoes are worn out. If you’re new to running, write down when you bought your shoes on the tongue of the shoe or on your training calendar and then after 200 miles go to the running store and run on their treadmill in a new pair of the same shoe you’re running in.

Owning more than one pair of running shoes and alternating between them is a good idea, but the upfront costs sucks. You can buy two pairs of the same shoe and get benefits because it takes about 24 hours for a shoe to fully recover from a run. So, if you run two a days, or you run with less than 24 hours between workouts you’ll have fresh shoes. It’s even better if they are different brands with different features.

If you are a runner you also have to think about what you have on your feet when you’re not running. You may be increasing your risk of injury by wearing unsupportive casual or dress shoes all day long. Replacing your everyday shoes regularly is important too. You can’t be walking/standing around all day in crappy shoes and then expect to stress your feet during a long run and be just fine.

Lacing your shoe up properly also ensures that the shoe is able to function like the manufacture intends. If they are too loose or too tight, they are not doing what you need them to do and they’re not going to work for your feet. If you can slip your foot in and out easily, it’s too loose. If you can pry your shoe off easily with the other foot, it’s too loose. If you feel tingling in your foot, it’s too tight. If the top of your foot gets sore, it could also be too tight.

Buying the right size of running shoe is obviously important for comfort and for functionality. Running shoes should be ½ to one size too big because your feet tend to swell during long runs. Many people have one foot that is longer than the other or a toe on one foot that stretches out further than on the other foot. Make sure you’re getting shoes that fit your longest foot, including its toes. They also need to be wide enough for your toes to splay (spread out) when you land and push off the ground.

If you wear orthotics in your shoes, make sure and take them with you to the running store because it will change they type of shoe you will likely buy. Orthotics or over-the-counter insoles provide support to your arch, a running store may recommend a shoe with more support if they don’t know you put in an orthotic or how much support the orthotic provides.

Happy running. Next up is Stability.

Running Preggers: When you have to go, go!

Running can have some interesting challenges relating to using the bathroom. If you’re a trail runner, this isn’t so much of a problem, although you should be burying or packing out solid waste. In the woods, you can just duck behind a tree. Looking up and down trail before, of course. As a road runner, depending on the time of day when you run, bathroom access is also pretty simple.

When you’re running for two, it’s not that simple. Why would it be? Every bodily system you can think of is altered when you’re pregnant (although I haven’t heard anything about your perception of sound…). It’s very important that you don’t wait to go to the bathroom, number one or number two.

Holding your urine is not just uncomfortable when you’re running, but it can cause infections, even in non-pregnant people. The real problem is the frequency of needing to go pee. Even in early pregnancy, when the baby is smaller than a pea, women will need to go more often. This is because your body increases the amount of blood it pumps and your blood volume, so you’re drinking more water and your kidneys and bladder are working overtime.

Blood volume increases until the third trimester and making sure you’re hydrated throughout the day will continue this pattern of needing to go all the time. And then there’s the baby. As baby grows he/she puts pressure on your bladder making you feel like you have to go even when you don’t have that much in there.

You can be running along enjoying the beautiful day and then bam, you have to go right now. You think, “but I went 15 minutes ago!” doesn’t matter, you have two choices: stop to pee again, or pee your pants. This can make running frustrating at times because jumping into the bushes to pee in a neighborhood is frowned upon. Getting off the treadmill all the time is also frustrating. So, for the potty problems, trails are your best option, in my opinion.

As for number twos, unfortunately, pregnant women don’t have to worry too much about those while they’re running. In fact, most pregnant women wish they had to worry about that when running. Constipation is another lovely side effect of being pregnant. The hormones in our body slows digestion down to a crawl, so the baby can suck as much nutrients out of the food we eat as possible. And then there’s the baby. As baby grows he/she compresses your intestines and shoves most of your organs up into your ribcage further complicating your ability to digest food and move it through your body. All in the name of love.

A maternity belt can help alleviate some of the pressure on your bladder and hopefully you won’t have to go pee, so much. Don’t restrict your water intake to prevent the frequent bathroom stops as tempting as that may be. You could wear very absorbent panties, but they would likely chafe something awful.

Weekly miles: 30 miles this week!

Realistic Goal Setting

Alright, you’ve picked your goal race for 2018 now the training begins. There are a million training programs on the internet for every distance you want to run. There are also many different books you can buy that will help you construct your very own training plan.

One thing you have to keep in mind when you’re developing your training schedule is what is your goal finish time? Deciding what a reasonable goal is for you to finish a particular distance in can be challenging. Your goal finish time needs to be realistic based upon your prior finish times, your experience running the distance, and your training (consistency and workouts).

If you want to improve your finish time for a specific distance, you need to first ask yourself are you willing and able to put in the training to achieve it. You may have to train for longer and you will have to train harder. Training harder means getting the extra rest you’ll need and extra attention to your nutrition (before, during, and after race day). Your training will have to jump up a priority for you to remain consistent in completing each session but also completing them at the effort you need to be putting in.

Pull up your prior race times and think about the amount and type of training you put in to hit those times. If you’ve kept good documentation of your race times, you should be able to see where you struggled in a race. Think about the struggles you faced during the races that set you back and ways you can improve in those situations. Did you struggle climbing hills or descending them? Did the heat or the cold suck up all your energy? Is nighttime slowing you down?

All of these things can be addressed in your training along with many others like hydration and nutrition. Once you’ve identified areas where you know you can improve, pick one or two. If you have more than two or three, trying to address them all isn’t reasonable and could lead to over training or just plain burn out.

Here’s the hard part. How much time can you realistically cut off your prior finish times? Figure out what your average finish time has been. So, my last few 100s have been 32:44, 21:33, 28:42, 23:54, and 35:12. That’s quiet the range! But they are very different races and my training was different too. The two sub- 24’s are at flat races. A goal of 20 hours is realistic for a flat 100 for me. It would me taking 55 seconds off per mile. The 32:44 and 28:54 are at the same race a year between them. I trained much harder for that 28:54 and I got lost during the race. The race was very mountainous. A goal time of 26-27 hours at a mountain race would be realistic, but I would have to train hard and stay focused throughout training.

As you come up with a realistic goal, break it down into minutes per mile and then think about the terrain you’ll be traversing, is it still realistic? If you’ve made significant gains in your performance dropping 1-2 minutes per mile may be doable in a 100-mile event. It’s not in a shorter event. The shorter the event the less time you’ll be able to cut off each mile.

Don’t forget about the rest, the harder you train the more important rest becomes. Rest is when you build.  Schedule your rest days and your rest weeks. No rest means no improvements and high risk of injury.

Training Framework

Training has many different aspects to it, but I think we all have a tendency to focus on the physical running part more than anything else. Running is definitely one of the defining aspects of our training, but our training should include much more than just running.

When anyone asks us what our training looks like, we immediately go to how many miles we’re running and how many days a week. They might as what we’re training for and we’ll throw out the name of our goal race or possibly just the next one on the schedule.

Even if you’ve never really thought of it, our training encompasses more than just running. Training can be broken down into physical, psychological, and nutritional. Making sure you take the time to consider each of these separate from the other, guarantees you’ll be thinking about them and adding them to your training plan in some form.  You can set goals related to each of these different aspects of your training.

Physical training includes your running, strength training and rest days. Running is at the core of our training and it is our goal. We want to run for life not just for the next race and because of that goal all of these other aspects of training get pulled in. Being the best runners, we can be means we need to address speed, endurance, and strength in our training schedule. If you want your training to mean anything, you have to rest. Without rest our body cannot adapt and get stronger.

Psychological training includes strategies for dealing with down times during a race, lack of motivation in training, boredom, going out too fast, and rest. Ultrarunners know finishing a race hinges on pushing past the low points, and there will be low points. Getting through months of training and any injuries takes mental fortitude like you wouldn’t believe. Being prepared for these challenges is critical to getting to the starting line let alone the finish line. Psychological rest is being able to find other things you enjoy that reduce your stress level because if you get injured and have to take time off, you need to have other things you can focus on to get you through and back to running.

Nutritional training includes day to day nutrition and hydration, race day nutrition and hydration, and recovery nutrition and hydration. All runners think about race day nutrition, but not all of them think about their day to day nutrition or their recovery nutrition. The same goes for hydration. Yeah, we all laugh and say we run so we can eat whatever we want, but for most runners eating ice cream, fatty burgers, pizza, and French fries is not going to help you reach your running goals. There may be an argument for recovery though, at least for your postrace meal. Our body gives what it gets. Try different ways of fueling and hydrating your body during training, and you’ll be able to dial it in making your race a success.

Limiting our definition of training to just our weekly running schedule or our next goal race is short sighted and won’t get us what most of us want, which is to run healthy and strong for the rest of our lives.