Hate Hills?

Hate Hills?

When I first started running, I didn’t like running uphill. I don’t think that comes as a surprise to anyone because running hills is hard. It makes your legs and lungs burn. You want to stop before the hill begins or find another route without a hill. As I’ve continued to run, becoming stronger in the process, I’ve also learned to love running hills, both up and down.

They have become a welcome challenge. When I learned the value of hill training, my perspective on running hills shifted. If you’ve been running long enough, you know running down hill can be just as hard as going up. Training schedules should include a run focused on hill running (up and down) at least every other week.

Unless you only run on a treadmill or a track you’re going to come upon a hill. It’s best if you can foster a good relationship with hills. Even if you’re the kind of runner who only chooses to run routes and races where there are the least number of hills and the smallest of hills, you should find some hills to run.

Uphill running improves your form by increasing your knee lift, joint mobility and neuromuscular communication. Hills also improve your leg strength and your cardiovascular fitness. When you’re running uphill, keep your head held high and looking forward. This will help keep your hips, knees and ankles aligned. Your stride length should automatically shorten because the ground comes up to meet your foot sooner than on a level surface. Running uphill is a good time to really become aware of your body and where it is in relationship to your surroundings.

As you climb, don’t lean forward at the waist into the hill because it engages the quads and calves more than necessary and leaves the glutes and hamstrings out of the work. This may not sound too bad in a short race, but in a longer race with lots of downhill running you’re going to wish you had relied on your glutes and hamstrings for more of the climbs. A runner’s forward lean on any grade comes from the ankles not the waist.

Downhill running improves your foot speed/cadence, your range of motion and reduces your risk of injuries. Running downhill efficiently requires mindfulness and a little bravery. It’s important to maintain control as you’re speed increases. You want to keep your stride length short and your leg turnover (foot cadence) fast. Try not to dump your hips forward or lean back, which causes a breaking action. On a mild to moderate hill, try to maintain your form as if you were on flat ground. As the descent becomes more intense, you’re going to have to find a happy balance between leaning forward and breaking based on your own experience.

Hills are not only physically challenging, but psychologically challenging too. In fact, I think it’s the psychological component that really messes with us. When you’re out for your next easy run, take some time and think of a mantra you can use as you approach a hill. You can also imagine yourself conquering hills and then use that while you’re pushing up your next hill. If that’s all to new age or complicated, just think of a word you can say to yourself as you climb such as “Powerful,” or “Strong.” You can use the same word or come up with something different for your downhills.

As an ultrarunner, uphills usually translate into power hiking during races and even longer runs because it is more energy efficient to hike than try to power up at a run. However, don’t think that means you get to skip hill training. All the benefits above apply to you as well. There is a lot that goes into deciding which hills to run and which to power hike. It’s going to depend on the distance of the race/run, grade of the hill, and the length of the hill. Your physical condition will also play a role. The longer the race, the more power hiking you’re going to be doing. The steeper or longer the hill, the more likely it is you will be hiking (more on this in the next post).

A few quick exercises you can add to the end of your easy runs to help you up the hills. Do four sets each:

Foot slaps: stand with your feet hip-width apart, rock onto your heels to lift your forefoot high and then slam them to the ground. Do repetitions of twenty and increase to fifty.

Quadruped Hip Circles: Get down on all fours, extend your left leg behind you, bend it to circle to the side and forward, then straighten it back out. Do 4 reps and then change directions then do your right leg.

Reverse Sliding Lunge:With a towel beneath your left foot and your weight on your right leg, slide your left foot back into a lunge. Push through your right heel to stand. Do 10-12 reps per side.

High Step: Plant your right foot on a tall bench, so your right knee is higher than your hip. Press through your right heel until your right leg is straight. Lower back down and repeat 5-10 reps per side.

Remember: Every hill you conquer makes the next one easier, both physically and mentally.

Running Preggers: Shoes

Since the past few posts have been about shoes, I thought I should just continue the theme and just complicate the whole issue with being pregnant. There are obvious changes to a woman’s body that occur when she is pregnant that will impact what she wants and should put on her feet.

There are many articles out which stress how important it is for women who are pregnant to wear clothes and shoes that are comfortable. This is even more important if you are a runner. The recommended weight gain for a woman, with a healthy weight to start with, is 25 to 30 lbs during pregnancy. I’m not going to get into the details of where all that weight comes from, but it’s certainly not all fat (only about 7-8 lbs actually).

The weight alone is reason for you to consider your shoes. If you’re running in a shoe with minimal cushion you may want to consider running in something in the mid range. Going high cushion, if you’re not use to them, is not recommended because it can cause some instability in the ankles, knees and hips.

Pregnant runners do not want to do anything to add to the instability of their body since pregnancy hormones and an ever increasing belly does that enough. The hormone Relaxin causes our tendons and ligaments to relax in preparation for child birth. This begins to happen fairly early in pregnancy and continues until the very end.

No tendon or ligament is left behind. From head to toe your ligaments and tendons relax. This can cause instability in your hips, knees, and ankles. You’re larger belly also throws off your balance and stability. If you start to have some aches in your joints consider switching to a more supportive shoe or adding insoles, if you don’t have them already.

The hormone Relaxin also makes your feet flatten out more. The repeated flattening of your feet causes the tendons and ligaments to stretch out, possibly permanently. The translation, bigger shoes. You’re likely to go up a half size during pregnancy and may stay that way. You could also need wider shoes. Many women experience swelling in their feet and ankles too. When you do end up at the running store, and you will if you’re planning to run throughout your pregnancy, make sure you try on shoes with more support, more length and more width. Don’t just go for your tried and true shoes.

It can be hard to let go of your sleek running shoes and move into a clunky stability shoe that weights nearly double your racing flats, but preventing injury and running safe through your pregnancy is what’s important. You’ll have your favorites (just in a larger size) cradling your feet soon.

Weekly miles: With baby girl growing more now (25 weeks along), running longer has become more uncomfortable, so over the past two weeks I’ve switched from 3 two hour runs to running one hour a day.

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.

Tiggers Bounce, Should You?

I know Tigger is very adorable bouncing on his spring like tail down the trail of Hundred Acre Wood, but running is not supposed to be adorable and runners don’t bounce, right?

Common sense says that pushing off the ground with a higher stride angle, the angle of your ankle joint, (so you travel up more than forward), would equal less running economy, but there’s at least one study from 2013 that says more bounce is better. Don’t get excited my bouncy friends, there are lots of studies that show bounce is bad.

It’s a long-held belief that running with a bounce, or vertical oscillation, wastes energy because runners want to move forward not upward. Runners with more bounce tend to be heel strikers as well. If you think about it, it just makes sense. Pushing off so you move up rather than forward, when forward is the goal, is going to use more energy over time than moving forward without so much upward motion.

Of course, it’s not that easy. There are runners who bounce and land toward their forefoot. There are two types of bouncing runners: those who run with a forefoot strike and have an elastic bounce and those who run with a heel strike and have a muscular bounce.

An elastic bounce uses the stored energy of the Achilles tendon to power the runner and can reduce energy costs. A muscular bounce on the other hand, is caused by a long stride length, the breaking action of a heel strike followed by a hard toe-off from the forefoot. The problem with the muscular bounce is it places more stress on the musculature of the lower legs and feet.

Not only does this waste your energy, but the impact of hitting the ground flows through the body in the wrong way and can cause injuries such as shin splints, runners knee, lower back pain, and soft tissue vibration and injury.

Alright so you’re a bouncer, what now? If you are a beginning runner, the bounce may fade away as you build muscle and get into your running groove. If you’ve been at this running thing for a while and you still bounce, make sure your stride is short and your leg turnover is about 180 steps per minute. Pay attention to your arms as you run too. They should be at a 90-degree angle and swing mostly straight forward and back. Your elbow comes up to your hip and your wrist goes back to your hip. Keep your hands lose.

If you’re a heavy heel striker, try to adjust to landing on your feet when they are beneath you, so you’re landing on your mid-foot or forefoot. This will happen automatically if you have a slight forward lean, your shoulders are pulled back, and your head is up.

Tigger is very happy bouncing on the trails, but you’ll be happier and faster if you reduce the bounce.