There are as many reasons for running as there are days in the year, years in my life. But mostly I run because I am an animal and a child, an artist and a saint. So, too, are you. Find your own play, your own self-renewing compulsion, and you will become the person you are meant to be.
- George Sheehan

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Running Impact Research Presentation by Dr. Irene Davis - PLEASE WATCH! :)

 Fascinating stuff!!  This is a four part video series on YouTube of a presentation by Dr. Irene Davis, Harvard Medical Center, and her research on impact forces in running.  She presents awesome data that really adds some hard evidence to the ongoing debate of barefoot or minimalist footwear vs. traditional running shoes.

 I'm loving this information.  I wish I had seen this when I first started running.  I know I said to watch the other video in my last post, but if you're limited on time, check these out please!  This is the definitive scientific presentation that I've seen thus far.  Brava, Dr. Davis.

Video one: heel striking, midfoot striking, forefoot striking, tibial g-forces, stride turnover and injury rate, shoes and their tendencies to increase pronation, etc. 
Video 2: Cushioning in shoes and the related stiffness in joints, landing impacts based on hardness of surface, price of shoes/ related injury rates, plantar faciitis and foot strength, why do podiatrists treat the feet the way they do?
Video 3: How humans are structured to run, running injury distribution and rates, case studies, "If we were meant to run, why do we get injured doing it?"

Video 4: Question/Answer

She also reiterates the need for people to educate themselves and take it slow when going barefoot or minimalist.  Hooray!

Interview with Dr. Irene Davis, Harvard Medical Center

Whether you love running shoes, minimalist shoes, or no shoes at all, you should really check out this interview about Dr. Irene Davis, and her studies:


"It is important for everybody to be willing to be let go of their dogma"
"The truth today may not be the truth in 50 years from now"
"You need to be open and willing to change your mind about some things"

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The "Transitional" Shoe Debate

Barefoot is the new buzzword for shoe companies.  Anything they can throw out there that is slightly lighter and even vaguely marketable toward the minimalist crowd is promoted as such.  Conventional running experts and coaches, as well as some podiatrists, even agree that less shoe is a good idea for some.  Most of them will argue, though, that in order to go from a conventional running shoe to something more minimal, you have to step down gradually through the use of transitional shoes.

For example:  If you're running in a typical 12 oz trainer with 30+mm of heel height and a drop of  ~12 mm (seriously...how these things became mainstream I'll never know), a transitional shoe might be somewhere around 9oz, have a heel of maybe ~20mm, and a drop of around six or seven.  Hypothetically speaking.  So for example, if someone is in a Saucony ProGrid Triumph 8 (just picked it off of Running Warehouse, sorry Triumph fans), a transitional shoe might be a Saucony Cortana (or Nike Free Run) with the end goal being the Saucony Kinvara (7.7oz, 4mm drop).

But is this gradual stepping down of shoes really necessary?  And is it truly the best way to go about it?  We may never know.  Personally, I wouldn't bother.  And that's not because I prefer running barefoot.  I honestly don't care what people wear, so long they're running safe, healthy, and happy.  But if you're in one of those in heavy trainers with all that material between you and the ground, and you want something a little bit more minimal (no matter how minimal), I would encourage you to consider using some barefoot training instead of a transitional shoe.

Why?  Because the less shoe you wear, the more important running form becomes, and the stronger your foot needs to be.  A heel striker in a conventional running shoe will likely still be a heel striker in a Kinvara or Nike Free 3.0.  And a weak foot won't get the type of conditioning it needs in another trainer.  Transitioning from a big trainer shoe to something lighter and more flexible really can be just as simple as taking your shoes off for a couple minutes at a time.

Just a couple of minutes at the end of your regular runs can make all the difference.  You can still maintain your regular mileage in your old shoes, but maybe twice a week or so for several weeks, take your shoes off for a cool down period at the end of your run.  Learn how to run lightly barefoot, and get comfortable with good technique like the midfoot landing, lifting the feet, cadence, etc.  This not only teaches your brain what to look for and to apply in your new shoes, but it helps condition your feet.  Gradual strengthening of the feet in this fashion will better prepare them for the workload of lesser shoe.  And you'll learn to run all over again.  After a few weeks of that, start easing into your new choice of footwear.  Maybe rotate those with your old shoes, and continue you barefoot training sessions.

Not only that, but just being barefoot (or in socks) around the house as much as possible can help.  So can using a golf ball, scrunching towels/pillowcases, etc with your feet.  Learning to exercise your feet like that can help increase strength and dexterity.

Just my two cents.  I honestly think the "transition" shoe is a bunch of marketing CRAP fed to runners who might be looking to explore the benefits of running in less shoe.  But people are constantly being told by shoe companies and running "experts" in magazines that barefoot is dangerous out in the man made world, and instead they have to use transition shoes.  B.S.  A little bit of barefoot training can educate and condition a runner to adapt to a more minimal shoe better than any transition shoe could.

Photos and videographic evidence! :)

I've been out for awhile with a strained back from a self-defense course I took, but here's some things left over from my last run.  First, a little video:

video


People are also curious about what barefoot running does to your feet.  While most folks assume nasty, thick callouses develop, and that the skin becomes very tough like leather, that's not usually true.  Most barefoot runners' feet are actually very soft.  Mine are.  It's the best kind of exfoliation out there!  ;-)

So here's a pic of one of my feet after a 50 minute run (concrete/asphalt):

And after it's been washed off:


My feet after a 60 minute run (concrete/asphalt):




So as long as my form is good, I avoid blisters and scraping, and the feet look fine.  The pads of my feet have become a little thicker as they should, and as a result my foot is wider than it used to be, but aside from that, no issues! :)

Getting Started with Barefoot Running

I do a lot of talking on this blog, but to put it simply, here are something to keep in mind if you're considering trying barefoot running:

1.  Start out barefoot.  That terms gets used a lot with all the minimalist shoe options out there claiming to be "barefoot running shoes."  Don't even bother with them.  Take off your shoes and get ready to go.

2.  START SLOW!  Let your skin be your guide.  Meaning, when you go out running barefoot, and your skin starts to feel irritated, then you're done.  By only doing as much as your skin allows you to do comfortably, you won't stress the inner structure of your foot and do actual damage.  Your skin and foot pad will gradually increase in their ability to handle the workload, as will the muscles, bones, and soft tissue in your feet.  That's why starting off in shoes like the Vibram FiveFingers can be so dangerous - you can't feel the ground, and therefore can't feel when you've done too much and injured yourself.

3.  Run on hard surfaces.  Yes, the non-barefoot running "experts" claim that barefoot running should only be done on grass.  But smooth concrete is a barefoot runner's best friend.  Harder surfaces give the best feedback, therefore your form will be easier to correct.  Grass also hides hidden dangers that you could easily see and avoid on concrete.

4.  Lift your feet!  Runners used to conventional shoes and heel striking might be under the impression that you have to push off with your toes.  Instead, think about lifting your feet off the ground and allow momentum to carry you forward.  If you push off your toes barefoot, you will stress your feet and tear up your skin.  If you push off in minimalist footwear, you risk injury.  Lifting the feet is key.

5.  Shorten your stride, increase your cadence.  Quicker, shorter steps help the foot land under the body's center of gravity, rather than out in front of the body and on the heel.  A midfoot/forefoot landing under the body greatly reduces the impact forces on the body.  Think of your body coming to a screeching halt every time you heel strike and the impact forces that would cause.  With a shorter stride also comes higher cadence.  A recommended rate is 180 bpm.

6.  Allow your heel to "kiss" the ground.  Some people new to barefoot or minimalist running (especially in the Vibram FiveFinger community) think that you have to "run on your toes."  NO!!  The landing should be under your body on the forefoot or midfoot, but the heel should briefly touch the ground afterward.  Midfoot first, heel second.  When that heel touches the ground, the arch flattens out and absorbs a great deal of the shock.  If you ran only on your toes, your calves and Achilles would take that beating, and that leads to some very painful injuries.

Example and explanation of barefoot running, by Michael Sandler of RunBare.com:


Some initial advice and drills:


Check out Barefoot Running University, Barefoot Runners' Society, and RunBARE.com for great resources on getting started with barefoot and minimalist running.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reebok's idea of "natural running"....LOL.

Well, Reebok has officially jumped on the "natural running" bandwagon with their new RealFlex.  It's the company's answer to the Nike Free and Saucony Kinvara, both of which have been popular models.  But like Nike and Saucony, Reebok's "reasons" for the shoe and its super technology only make me sit here and laugh at it because a couple of them are flat out WRONG.

Check out a review and videos on BirthdayShoes.com.  In the video, Reebok's representative makes several good points about the mechanics of barefoot running and how they are beneficial.  I applaud Reebok for acknowledging that and wanting to embrace it in their shoes.  However, that's just about where the praise ends.  Claims that humans can't run barefoot on man made surfaces like concrete is ABSURD!  Where do you think I do all of my barefoot running?  On concrete.  In fact, barefoot is the only way I can run on concrete without getting any top of foot pain (which yes, can eventually lead to a stress fracture).  Barefoot keeps me safe, and good concrete is the absolute best surface to run barefoot on (in my own opinion).  I am protected by those dreaded impact forces (as the video mentioned) because I can feel the ground beneath me, and have learned to step softly.  I can't do that in any type of footwear, even the most minimal.  That's why I prefer barefoot on concrete whenever I can.

So we've got Reebok claiming that barefoot in the man made world won't fly.  False.  They go on to say that running barefoot down hills doesn't work either because you HAVE to land on your heel.  Also a big fat false.  When I go downhill, I shorten my stride up and allow my momentum to carry me down the hill.  As a result, I maintain my midfoot strike and have no issues.  It's all about technique.  I think the majority of people would be outright shocked to discover what their body is capable if used correctly.

The RealFlex looks like another over-engineered piece of footwear.  The sensor pods (really??) look very appealing to those looking for the next advancement in shoes, but I don't think they're necessary, and contrary to the idea of "less is more" when it comes to running shoes.  The shoe even has a substantial heel on it, which for me, was a huge reason why I heel struck in shoes and caused myself injury.  Lifted heels on running shoes encourage heel striking.  That's why a good "natural running" shoe would have a minimal drop, or no drop at all.

In my mind, the Reebok RealFlex looks like just another running shoe.  It's probably lighter and more flexible like the Free, but in the end, they're all still running shoes.  I have no problem with that.  If anything, I'm somewhat excited about this, because this gives runners in traditional trainers a lighter option (thought not as light as the Kinvara or Free) and hopefully a path to healthier running.  It means that major shoe companies are embracing the idea of less is more, and encouraging a more natural gait.  I just wish companies would stop selling them through lies/false information.  But I guess they still have to sucker in people to make a profit.

Oye.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Yahoo needs to do its research too.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_weekend/20110408/ts_yblog_weekend/do-the-latest-fitness-shoes-work

The insistence on some podiatrists on the need for rigid, padded stability shoes is mind blowing, it really is.  I was a poor runner and suffered injuries from running, and all the doctors did was prescribe stability shoes and orthotics to "properly align" my foot and body.  And all they did?  Make it worse.

Some docs are starting to get it.  Others are still so blind to the idea that the human foot was made to function without shoes that they can't even fathom something as simple as barefoot or minimalist shoes.  Some even set up blogs defaming barefoot running, when they're getting money from shoe companies for advertising and promoting their products.

Awesome.  Don't even get me started on Yahoo's half hearted attempts at reporting anything.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Barefoot running and the need for education

Barefoot Bounce: UNC student falls for barefoot running, but romance is fleeting


Here's an article from Greeley, Colorado (I've been there!), about a UNC student who was a former barefoot runner.  No, barefoot running's not for everyone, but if you're going to do it, at least made SOME attempt at educating yourself about form, cadence, training plans, etc.  Learn the biomechanics of it all.  Just by looking at the pictures I can tell he's probably overstriding, which puts a lot of unnecessary stress on the body, and a great deal of friction on the skin. 

I could go on, but I won't.  The kid tried, and for that he gets some respect.  But the other part of it is setting yourself up for success by getting educated.  Check out the Barefoot Runner's Society and Barefoot Running University for some basics.

As for the article...well, given its underdevelopment and tone, I can't help but feel like it's meant to spark some debate in the area, maybe even prove that BFR should be looked down upon, I don't know.  It's very hard to tell.  Not a piece of journalistic brilliance in any case.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Barefoot or shoes? It doesn't have to be "all or nothing."

I greatly prefer running barefoot to running in any type of shoe, but I'm certainly not blind to the fact that not everyone feels the same.  I know that barefoot running is, and very well may always be, a fringe activity.  But I, like other barefoot and minimalist runners, know that it doesn't have to be all or nothing.  There has been a lot of discussion over at the Barefoot Runners' Society about whether or not the "barefoot running movement" is going about it the right way.  It's easy to be purist and preach "barefoot is the only way to go," but maybe it should be "try less shoe."  I try not to preach at all; if someone's healthy and happy running in shoes, then great.  If someone expresses interest in trying barefoot or minimalist, then I'll talk to them as much as they want.

But it really doesn't have to be one side or the other.  Yes, I think the vast majority of "traditional" runners (those in typical modern running shoes and trainers) would greatly benefit from stepping down to a simpler, lighter, and more flexible shoe.  A little education in running form, and less cumbersome choice in footwear is a good choice for most.  So here are a couple of options:


Nike Free - probably the more recognizable shoe trying to appeal to the "barefoot" runner.  I consider this a "reduced running shoe," and not minimalist, because it's really a stripped down trainer.  Minimalist, in my opinion, is something more akin to the Vibram FiveFingers, Merrell Trail/Pace Gloves, and ultra light racing flats with 4mm drop or less.  The Free, on the other hand, weighs much more and has more midsole padding than anything of that sort.  It is lighter, more flexible, and contains fewer gadgets than most of the trainers on the market today.  The various models feature different levels of heel-toe drops, with the lowest being the Free 3.0 (the lower, the better!).  Lower drops encourage a midfoot/forefoot strike and get runners off of landing on the heel.  I applaud Nike for taking advantage of a potential opportunity, and creating a simpler and very functional shoe that does encourage a healthier stride.  Would I run in them?  Not unless I have to.  But I have seen and heard some success stories with the Frees, and so long as they have a positive impact on people's running, that's the most important thing. 


Saucony Pro Grid Kinvara - The Kinvara is yet another shoe company's attempts at getting in on the minimalist pay day.  While advertised by Saucony as a "minimalist" shoe, the Kinvara is yet another reduced running shoe.  Weighing in at just over 7oz, it's a very lightweight trainer with a wide and very stable landing area.  It also features a 4mm drop.  I had a pair of Kinvaras last summer, and while I didn't run in them much, I ran enough to know that they are a HUGE improvement over the traditional trainers I ran unsuccessfully in during 2009.  The low drop encourages a natural midfoot strike, and the light, airy mesh upper allowed great airflow.  I really think that Saucony got it right with the Kinvara, as here is a shoe that appeals to the traditional runner that might insist on a certain amount of material between their foot and the road, and yet the shoe does encourage a healthy stride.  Having said that, and being a barefoot runner, they did feel like foam boats.  If I had to run in them I could, but I still prefer less (ie. ultra light racing flats) or nothing at all.  Still, if you're a runner used to heavy trainers and are looking for a graduated step down to less shoe, the Kinvara is a great bet.  It was one of the hottest shoes on the market in 2010 for good reason.  It could be more flexible, but in that respect it's very appealing for those looking to transition to less shoe, without going minimalist.


INOV8 F-Lite 195 -   This UK company has a lot of choices for those looking to run in less shoe.  The 195 features a 3mm drop from heel to toe, and weighs a whopping 6.8oz.  Other Inov8 options include the Road X-Lite 155





Somnio NADA - Now THIS is what I'm talking about!!  If I wasn't already very happy with my Mizuno Wave Universe 3 racing flats, the Somnio NADA would be my next shoe.  A combined 6mm thick midsole, zero drop, and only 4oz...these seem like the perfect racing flat.  There's a slight toe spring (upturn of the toe), but the reviewer wasn't impacted by that.  I will consider these in the future.



So....

What to consider in a reduced running shoe or racing flat?
Look for a light, flexible shoe with a drop of less than 6mm if possible.  The toe box should be wide and roomy, to allow your toes to splay (spread out) as they naturally would.

Other shoe possibilities include the Saucony Grid A4 racing flat, Saucony Kilkenny cross country flat, and a plethora of other options available for review at BirthdayShoes.com:
http://birthdayshoes.com/barefoot-running-shoes

Another fun barefoot run

So today I decided to head out for another run, barefoot, and enjoy the beautiful weather. :)    It was a little warm, so the concrete was a little hot, but other than that I couldn't complain.  The best part was I didn't get stopped by the cops this time.  ;-)

I found a new game, too.  Normally I run on sidewalks, but when that is too rough or there is no side walk, I've taken to running on the road, on the concrete part of the curb where it meets the asphalt.  When a car approached me, I jumped up on the curb and ran on the curb itself.  It was oddly amusing!  Sort of like running on a balance beam.  Yet one more way for me to interact with the terrain and play around while running.  Definitely keeps things interesting, that's for sure.

I was out for an hour again, and experienced more interaction with other runners and passers-by.  I can always tell that drivers slow down to check out what the heck is going on with this crazy barefoot girl.  Between them and some of the people I passed on the sidewalk, I'm sure I turned a few heads.  That's not at all why I run barefoot, but it's one of those side-effects that you have to learn to accept.  Just keep running...