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.

Rising from the Dead

I really must apologize for my serious lack of posting over the last month or so. I had to take my own advice and let one of the juggling balls fall while I kept others in the air. As some of you know, I’m a full-time attorney by day and an ultrarunner by night (and day). I’m also the program director for the Homeless Youth Legal Clinic here in Utah. I sneak in writing when I can (I was hoping to publish another novel this year, but that doesn’t look like it will happen). Oh, and I’m a mom of two amazing sons and now a third little one is coming in May 2018!

Needless to say, between being pregnant and everything else, sleep became more necessary than writing my weekly blog posts. But the first trimester is behind us and the energy is supposed to come back soon…zzzzzz

Here is another confession. I chose not to run after I was five weeks pregnant. I’ve been hating on the elliptical and the stair master for the past eight weeks. However, I will be starting back running now that the first trimester is complete.

Running during pregnancy is a personal choice for each mother and child. And subsequent pregnancies can be treated very differently. It is completely possible for a healthy pregnant woman to run throughout her pregnancy. However, running is not a sport a woman should take up during pregnancy. Other, non-impact, activities are totally fine and should be pursued by pregnant women.

Here is why I chose to back off my running during the first trimester. The first trimester is the time with the highest risk of miscarriage. My chances of miscarriage started at 20% and slowly decreased during the first trimester. There is some research out there that says running can increase the chances of miscarriage during the first trimester.

A research study done with 90,000 pregnant women in Denmark, which found women who exercise more than seven hours a week during the first trimester increase their chances of miscarriage four times. And women who participate in running or ball sports during their first trimester increase their chances of miscarriage by four times.

I don’t think this study says women shouldn’t run during their first trimester. I think it says be smart and know your limits and know your body. I wasn’t willing to increase my risk of miscarriage since it was already higher than average because I’m over 35.

After the first trimester the risk of miscarriage is below 2% and all of the baby’s major systems are established and the placenta is fully functioning. Miscarriages happen for many reasons and most of them are out of the control of the mother-to-be.

Reverting to less impact forms of exercise for the eight weeks after we found out I was pregnant was a sacrifice I was willing to make to increase our chances of a healthy full-term pregnancy. Plus, I’ve come back from low impact training to full running many times and know it’s not as hard as grieving after a miscarriage and wondering if it could have been prevented.

Looking forward to running this new adventure!

Shoulder Strenght and Running

This is the second blog post in a series about how each major muscle group in your body plays a role in your running. Runners definitely don’t want a bulky upper body to weigh them down, but our upper body plays a significant role in our running form and our efficiency. If you don’t pay attention to muscle groups other than the legs, you set the stage for injuries both up and down the kinetic chain. Our muscles don’t work in isolation.
Weak shoulders tend to become rounded and collapse inward as you get tired toward the end of a race. Collapsing in this way impedes your diaphragm’s ability to expand and bring in sufficient air to continue to fuel your muscles. You need to have enough flexibility and strength in your shoulders to maintain proper form and allow your diaphragm to function. Your shoulders assist in maintaining a smooth and efficient arm swing (covered in the last post). Shoulders also help you maintain proper form, which impacts your efficiency. Efficiency means your body is burning the least amount of energy in can to maintain the movement and speed you need to perform well.
Running is more complex than people think. It’s not just a forward motion. There is rotation involved as well and over rotation wastes energy and throws off your running form increasing the risk of injury in another part of the body. Strong shoulders prevent over rotation. Your shoulders should be held back opening up your chest and not compressing your diaphragm You should be upright and not hunched over. I often tell runners to imagine there is a string from the center of your sternum reaching up to the moon or sun. This will get you in the proper from.
Using high repetitions and low weight will help prevent building bulky shoulders. If theses are too easy for you, increase repetitions and keep the weight as low as you can. If these are too hard, lower the weight and then the repetitions as needed. By the end of the third set you should feel a burn in your shoulders and it should be difficult to perform the last repetitions.
Exercises that will help you strengthen your shoulders include: push-ups perform three sets of 10-12; Renegade rows three sets of 10-12 repetitions; shoulder press three sets, 10-12 reps
How to perform renegade rows: place light weight dumbbells on the floor shoulder width apart. Get into the starting push-up position with one hand gripping a dumbbell. Pull your arm up through your elbow, pointing your elbow up toward the ceiling.
How to perform shoulder press: Take two light weight dumbbells and hold them at shoulder height press them over your head until your arm is fully extended. Lower them slowly.

Fast and Slow Twitch

twitches-fast-and-slow

 

The HURT 100 is ten days away and I’m going to need some fast feet if I want to keep a respectable pace during the race. HURT 100 is in Hawaii and the rain forest root systems can be treacherous. They practically grab ahold of your toes and don’t let go until you have hit the ground with your ankle at a stomach turning angle. Over the last few months I’ve been working on my agility in preparation for this hard truth.

The issue is this, I’m an endurance runner. My focus is sustained energy and effort rather than cyclone feet and legs. I asked a friend of mine to show me some agility exercises I could do to improve my foot work. He’s a soccer player, you see, so he has really fast feet.

I’ve been working on this for about three months. I’ve improved, but I’m nowhere near his speed. And I never will be. Why? Because I’ve never needed to develop those fast twitch muscles. I don’t have to run while keeping control over a ball as people are placing their feet between mine and in front of mine to get the ball away.

There are two general types of skeletal muscle fibers known as fast twitch (T-1) and slow twitch (T-2). Your fast twitch muscles are the ones give you that burst of speed or movement. Slow twitch are those endurance slow burners. Even as an endurance runner you recruit your fast twitch muscles when your slow twitch become tired. And as a sprinter you use your slow twitch muscles as your fast ones recover.

You can improve both sets of muscles, but your genetic make-up determines much of what you have. To build and improve your fast twitch muscles, focus on HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training. Weight lifting and explosive movements, to make it more fun you can play competitive sports, such as soccer, basketball, football and the like. You have to get outside your comfort zone and push your body. Then you rest for a bit and do it again.

For those slow twitchers a sustained lower level effort will increase their efficiency and longevity. You can’t change one type of muscle into the other, at least there is no evidence that supports the ability of muscle fibers to be converted from one to the other.

You have to work with what you have by choosing events and distances that rely your strengths. But it’s also good to step outside your box and chose events and distances that don’t.

Plains vs. Mountains

mountain sunrise

Vs.

sunrise-over-the-great-plains

Is the ultrarunning experience different when you run a flat race compared to a mountainous race?

Obviously, every course and every race is going to be a unique experience; even if you run the same race year after year there are just too many variables for it to be the exact same race.

But mentally and physically, there are differences when you are running a mountain race as compared to a flat race. Most 100 mile races and even 50k and 50 milers are in the mountains. It’s just easier to plot a course when you have hundreds of miles of trail to choose from and you don’t have to deal with streetlights, cars, and all the complications a city would create. I’m not saying putting together a trail race is easy. It definitely has its own challenges, but I would rather have those issues than the city issues.

Some mental challenges are similar and others are different. Similar: comprehending the distance you are running; mental exhaustion; working through aches and pains; working through the amount you have left to go (such as when you’re at mile 25 and you realize you have an entire marathon or three left to go. This becomes more of a challenge at mile 50 and 75 because you are more tired). Different: in a flat race the lack of variation can become tedious, especially if there isn’t much vegetation; you get bored more easily. With a flat race, you think it is going to be easier. It’s not. When you get out there and it’s just as difficult, or more, discouragement sets in and can cause you to slow down. The entire race is runnable, so you become frustrated when you have to walk due to heavy legs, sore feet, or whatever.

Some physical challenges are the same and others are different: Similar: you’re going to hurt, eventually, you’re going to have to eat when you don’t want to, and you’re going to be physically exhausted. Weather conditions can very and you need to be prepared for those. Stomach issues still need to be anticipated. Different: during a flat race, you are using the same muscles in the same way the entire time. In a mountain race, you incorporate different muscles as you climb and descend. This can lead to more aches and pains. The entire race is runnable, without mountains, there aren’t automatic hike sections, thus making you push harder or not take rest walks early in the race, which leads to being more tired than you would be if you had walked a bit at regular intervals. If you think the race is going to be easier, you may not stay up on your fuel, hydration, and electrolytes. This will lead to all kinds of problems making a schedule and sticking to it is going to prevent this.

As you can see, the physical challenges are linked to the mental challenges. Training is the sure fire way to find these challenges/differences and learn how you can deal with them. Every runner is going to deal with them in different ways. Training properly, will alleviate many of the physical issues which will then reduce the mental challenges as well.

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling, keep those doggies rolling..

contoured roller

I’ve written about foam rolling before, but it’s an essential element in my training/recovery routine and it merits repeating. Over the last week, i’ve been reminded, by my body, how important foam rolling is. After I finished the Bear 100 three weeks ago, I jumped right back into training mode, after one week off, because I have the Pony Express 100 in more 8 days. I skipped rolling for a few days in a row because I was busy and tired. My ITBand began tightening up in my left leg and my quad in my right leg. Both of which pulled the tendons guiding my knee caps resulting in tension and aching. I knew right away what it was and made sure I didn’t miss anymore days.

I get a lot of questions about when and how to stretch. My response has always been the same. If you’re going to stretch, stretch after you run not before. Muscles must be warmed up  before you stretch them or you risk straining or even tearing them. You can also “freeze” your muscles, causing them to go into defense mode and reduce your range of motion. Since the idea behind stretching is to help recovery and prevent injury you sure don’t want to cause injury.

How to stretch is a more complicated question. There are so many different ways to stretch and it’s hard to know which muscles/tendons to stretch in the first place. Of course, if you’re going to stretch, it’s important to stretch big muscles you use for running: quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and ITBands. Stretch to the point of it feeling tight and not super tight, just when it first starts feeling tight. You should hold the stretch for twenty to thirty seconds and then release it completely. Go through your stretches two to three times depending on how tight they are.

Why do I keep saying “if” you stretch? Because using a foam roller is better than stretching. A foam roller will do everything stretching does and more. It lengthens your muscles and tendons and also increases your flexibility. The “more” of foam rolling is its ability to break up the tension in your myofascial layer (deep connective tissues).

Here are the basics of foam rolling: relax the muscles you are rolling, but keep your core tight and stable. If you let your core sag, you’re not going to get the right angle and pressure on the tendons and muscles you’re trying to hit; roll slowly over the area, going back and forth for one to two minutes. Rolling isn’t all fun and games. It hurts at times. In fact, it can hurt pretty bad when you hit a knot. If you roll on a regular basis, you develop less knots.

Roll Happy!

Making the Leap into the Ultra-World: Body Functioning

making the leap 3

Your body can throw all kinds of kinks in an ultra. During your preparation for your race, consider everything that could go wrong while you are out there. Think about all the body functioning issues you or your friends have had during training or races. You need to think of things that have been issues in the past as well because things have a way of revisiting you at the worst times. Even things that have never been a problem for you in the past, but have for your friends can spring up.

Some experienced ultra-runners go out with minimal gear, not me. I have it all because it allows me to focus on the race and not worry about the what ifs or the oh shits.

Preparation is about expecting the unexpected. You’re already dealing with a lot when you are out on the course—managing your mood swings, food, hydration, and pain management. Dealing with something unexpected without the proper solution only adds to your load.

Body issues to plan for:

Blisters—have tape, band-aids, alcohol, mole skin, Neosporin and other such things. All of this can be used for cuts and scrapes if you fall as well.

Diarrhea—have anti-diarrhea medication or preventative measures.  If you don’t like medication while running a table spoon of apple cider vinegar in 6-8 oz of water can help. I’ve also heard Turmeric can help as well. Have extra shorts and undies available. Carry wet wipes with you.

Indigestion, nausea, and vomitting—have ginger in some form: chews, crystalized, or ale. Peppermint is another one you can use. There are of course medications as well. Keep in mind stomach issues can be caused by electrolytes being out of balance which is an easy fix. Just ingest more electrolytes and wait (don’t stop moving). Your stomach cannot absorb water without electrolytes, which means both water and food just sit there and make you uncomfortable. Another, more extreme/distasteful, solution is to make yourself vomit and start over.

Heat exhaustion/stroke and sunburns—keep your skin covered and sun block on. Ziploc bags of ice under your hat, in your sports bra, and shoved down sleeves will help you stay cool. Ice rolled up in a bandana around your neck is a good option. Dunk your hat and shirt in rivers or ice water. Move side to side along the trail to remain in the shade when possible. Hydrate and watch your electrolytes. You may have to slow your pace. The faster you run the higher you drive your body temperature. Add temperatures of 90-100 degrees and it could be a very dangerous situation.

Hypothermia—Make sure you have what you need to stay warm and don’t assume you can’t get hypothermia when the temperatures aren’t “that low.” Hypothermia happens when your body temperature drops too low. If you are running in temperatures close to 100 during the day and then temperatures drop to low 50s or 60s at night, you could get into trouble. Keep extra clothes on hand so you can add layers and change wet clothes. If your base layer gets wet from sweat, you should change clothes before the temperatures drop at night.

Sore knotted muscles—this is just par for the course, but there are some things you can do about it or at least try. Massage relieves things for short time, which can get you moving again. Your crew can use their hands or a massage tool like the stick. You can pack along a foam roller in your crew vehicle too. Tiger balm and icy hot can be helpful. I never recommend medication. There have been studies done that say it’s not helpful. If it is helpful, masking pain can prevent you from feeling a serious injury that could lay you up for months if you continue to run on it. Plus, it can cause stomach upset and worse heart rate increases, blood pressure changes, and kidney damage.

Twisted ankle or knee—braces and athletic and/or kensio tape. Over the years I’ve collected various braces for knees and ankles. I put these in my crew vehicle, just in case. If you catch an old/new injury early enough a brace may get you through the race without causing major damage to the tissues requiring tons of time off. This is always a balance between finishing and harm.

Your crew and pacers should know what symptoms to watch for with these ailments and how to treat various things. There is a chart with this information on my Ultra Crew page above.

For lists of items I carry in my medical and blister kits, see my page on gear lists above.