Barefoot running: It’s about how you run more than what you run in

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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Another study on barefoot running is out. I find this one to be of particular interest because it’s asking a question I would like to see asked more often: is the benefit of barefoot running due to what you’re running in (nothing or next to nothing) or how you’re running (eliminating the heavy heel strike)? I have my opinion on this answer but I’d like to see science back it up.

This is a small study (only 12 runners) so it hardly closes the book on the question but it’s a step forward in beginning to explore the question.

As for the answer itself, it seems to conclude the same thing many people, myself included, believed. The benefits (and risks) of barefoot running have to do more with how we run (forefoot plant) when barefoot than what we’re running in.

Specifically, the runners, whether wearing shoes or not, gain shock absorption when switching to a forefoot plant. Going barefoot and keeping your heel plant, not surprisingly, increases injury risk. The risk of switching to a forefoot plant, also not surprisingly, is an increased load on your calf muscles. Specifically, the gastrocnemius, which is the outer muscle of the calf.

What’s the takeaway of this? Here’s what I’m taking out of it. If you’re going to consider minimal or "barefoot" shoes or barefoot running itself, remember, the shoes are a tool. It’s not the shoes that improve your running, it’s the form changes that the lack of cushioning in those shoes forces. At the same time, proceed with caution. Your calves will need to work harder than they are used to if you currently heel plant. As with anything, build up slowly.

In other words, the same thing some of us have been saying for years, going back even before Chris McDougall’s book was published.

Birthday races

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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A less serious topic, just because (and it’s not even my birthday, this was spurred by a conversation with another runner who recently celebrated a birthday).

I have often been asked why I don’t celebrate my birthday with a race. Maybe it’s because I’m not a huge fan of racing in Wisconsin winters, which complicates things with an early February birthday. Maybe it’s because, while I’ve always thought of myself as a competitive runner, I’m a runner first and competitive second. Racing is an incredible experience and my running life would have a huge hole in it if racing wasn’t a part of it but I don’t run to race. I race because it’s a part of the running experience for me. I sometimes enjoy a relaxing long run through nature even more than I do a race.

Or maybe it’s because last time I did a birthday race, not running well was only half the story. Guys in the age group I joined just days earlier took 3 of the top 4 spots overall. What a welcome to a new age group that was.

Thoughts on GPS watches after 6 months with one

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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It’s been just over 6 months now since I began using my Garmin Forerunner 410. My first run with the Garmin was September 8th. As any of you who know me well know, I’ve long had concerns about using GPS devices for training. I have to say that some of my concerns have been proven correct through my own experience, while others have been allayed. At the same time, I’ve found some benefits to using GPS.

First, to go over my primary concerns and what I’ve found through personal experience:

Runners trust the GPS too much. I know it’s not 100% accurate so I haven’t fallen into this trap but I’ve seen the inaccuracies that show how dangerous this trap can be. When running on roads, it’s usually quite accurate. There is some error in the early stages when the device is still locking on to the satellites and you can always find error even late in a run but it will get your distance pretty accurate most of the time. There are exceptions, though, so you’re playing with fire if you place too much trust in your GPS. On wooded trails, it’s another story. You will get very strange results. Don’t be surprised when your readings turn out very inaccurate. I’ve heard of similar problems when surrounded by tall buildings in urban areas but I have no personal experience in this regard.

As a sidenote, certified race courses as well as many that aren’t certified are measured with far more accurate methods than GPS. Please don’t tell race directors their courses aren’t accurate based only on the fact that your GPS said it was a little off. Chances are it’s the path you took through the course and/or inaccuracies in GPS measurement that are a little off.

Runners are too dependent on the GPS, forgetting how to run by feel and focusing too much on trying to hit the "right" number. This is a real problem. Maybe it’s partly because I’ve always been a numbers guy but this has personally been a constant battle. The numbers are too readily available. I can check my current mile pace at any time in real time and it’s generally reasonably accurate. I can get reasonably accurate mile splits. This creates constant problems for a numbers guy like me. Maybe it’s different for others, though that’s not what I hear when I listen to other runners talk about using their GPS watches, but I’m constantly working on paying less attention to the Garmin. I generally do a good job but I won’t deny falling into the trap at times.

Now, a couple primary benefits I’ve found:

Workouts are even easier. Want to do mile repeats? Not a problem. Set your watch to give you an alert by distance. Want to do timed repeats? Just like any good running watch, it can also handle that. Mile repeats with timed recoveries? No problem. Of course, we can accomplish the same type of workout by time. 5 or 6 minute repeats in place of mile repeats will, for someone running 5-6 minute pace, be the same workout. However, I don’t think I’m alone when I say there’s something nice about doing mile repeats. Also, when not running on a track, it’s nice to have time and distance so you know what paces you were hitting.

Tracking your training is a breeze. This can be a double-edged sword but, used properly, can be very helpful. Just upload your data to Garmin Connect and it’s all there. I’ve been able to easily notice where in my tempo runs I might surge or let up a bit, which has allowed me to focus on those parts. This helps me get more out of my tempo runs and carry over what I learned into my racing so I can run my races more efficiently, which should translate to faster times.

I know I’m leaving off a lot of both pros and cons of GPS watches. I’ll probably touch on some or even expand on the above topics in the future. In the meantime, do you think I left off something that is a significant benefit or detriment? Feel free to comment with pros and/or cons that I left off the list.

Revival

This article was originally posted by Andrew A. at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

With a new team for the new year, I am once again wanting to blog more. I have committed myself to a seasonal summer focus on middle distance (800m-5000m) and leading up to that will race 5K-21K on the roads. The ideal is to be ready to compete in either 1500m or 5000m at Masters Track Nationals in mid-July in Kansas. I will likely be blogging more about my own training than I have in the recent past, hence reviving the blog I had used for that in the distant past.

Today I went and spectated at C.U.’s early-season home meet, the Jerry Quiller Classic. It was invigorating to be around a track meet setting again, to see competitors getting after it in spikes. The crack of the starter’s pistol, the field bunching together and then dispersing, the labored gasps, the rhythmic coordination of arms and legs, the grins at the finish. Part of me wanted to be racing the 3000m, though I am keenly aware that today I would have been drubbed royally by the guy who finished last. I take that to mean that I should move one of my weekly workouts to the track, though.

The year so far –

This article was originally posted by Ed at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

My feelings are a bit diametrical regarding my running so far this year.

On one end I have placed my distance goal of 2,013 miles for the year in jeopardy because of a bad Januray and bad February. As of tomorrow I should be hitting about 414 miles for the year so far to be on the correct pace. I am only going to be at 202 miles for the year. That is a differnce of 212 miles! That is a lot of ground to make up.

On the other end I am way ahead of where I was last year at this point. Last year at the end of March I had 62 miles and this year I will be close to 300. So I have a great shot at achieving my race goals of cutting my times down significantly and placing well overall as well as in my age group.

New study on the benefits of foam rolling

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Foam rolling has become very popular for runners. As soon as I got a roller last year to attempt to rehab some hip tightness, I was convinced. Combined with stretching, it took less than a week to relieve the persistent tightness I had been experiencing for quite some time. In the intervening time, it’s helped me quickly handle relapses in the hips, as well as work through calf tightness, hamstring tightness and various other minor problems before they became major or persistent problems.

One of the nice things about foam rolling is that it improves your flexibility without the drawback of reduced power production that static stretching can cause.

However, not much study has been done on foam rolling. The benefits have been anecdotal. Now, anecdotal evidence has its place and I’ve been a strong proponent of foam rolling, as a few of the people I coach can tell you, but it’s nice to see controlled studies show what we have seen anecdotally.

Now, we have the first study.

To sum up the study, participants were tested for knee joint range of motion and muscle strength before, as well as 2 minutes and 10 minutes after foam rolling. Strength was not reduced after foam rolling but range of motion increased by fairly significant amounts.

Now, this was a small study (11 participants) but the results do confirm what we’ve believed all along. Foam rolling is an effective way to increase flexibility without reducing muscle power production.

What should we take from this? Here’s what I’m taking from it. There are good reasons to not do static stretching before a run. We all have heard about the warnings of stretching a cold muscle. Along with that, there is evidence that we do lose power production at least for a period of time after static stretching. This could result in performance decreases if you static stretch before you run. So the question is, if you are tight and need to loosen up before a run, what do you do? Based on this, foam rolling seems like one alternative.

I’ve done pre-run foam rolling before early morning runs just because it feels good and I feel like it helps “wake up” my legs before a run. These results don’t surprise me at all, as I can feel a lot of that early morning tightness disappear after those sessions.

What do you think? Have you tried pre-run foam rolling?

New features added to the blogs – and more coming!

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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I’ve added some new features to the HillRunner.com Blogs over the weekend that should make it more robust as the blogs grow. Some of what you will see now:

Profiles: You can now update your profile (if you’re logged in) or view profiles (here’s mine). You’ll also notice that, when viewing someone’s profile, you will also see their most recent posts and comments.

Recent posts and comments: You can now view recent posts and comments in the right sidebar. This should help you keep up with what’s happening on the blogs. More features to keep updated on what’s happening will be coming in the near future. This has now become my top priority.

Recent posts on the HillRunner.com homepage: Recent comments will be added soon. Tip for those of you who want to keep up with what is going on throughout HillRunner.com: Make heavy use of the homepage. That is going to become your one stop location for updates on both the forums and the blogs, as well as other site-wide news.

Coming in the near future: More notification options for updated content on the blogs. Most notably, I’m looking into an email notification system.

Do you have any ideas? If you have an idea for what would make the HillRunner.com Blogs better that I haven’t mentioned here or elsewhere, feel free to bring them up. I’m very open to any and all ideas to make the blogging/reading experience here the best it can be.

Fall Half Marathon

This article was originally posted by Ed at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

I have registered for a fall Half Marathon. The Chicago Monster Dash on October 20, 2013. This looks to be a very flat out and back course. I am hoping to run a PR there. My current PR in the half marathon is 1:27:00. I am aiming for 1:22:00-1:23:00 (or better of course.)

I have a lot of work to do if I am going to hit that goal. But I am willing as well as able. Hard days ahead but the prize will be worth it all.

I am glad I have Coach Ryan to guid me along!

Getting back into the habit

This article was originally posted by Ed at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Anyone that knows me, knows I have a history of being very inconsistent when it comes to solid training.

The best way to break that inconsistency is to make the daily run a habit.

I am motivated to have some great performances this summer and fall. I have two main goal races for the year and I have realized that sometimes the thought of the goals is not enough on my bad days. I am going to put up a sign by my alarm clock that simply says "Sub 30!" I am hoping that this will help with a sharper focus versus thinking about a "race in fall" in such generic terms.

I want to make myself more accountable to others because more often than not I care more about others than myself. However, this is a difficult situation to create. I do know that I want to be a solid scoring member of team Hillrunner to defend our title this year. Some years the team is not very deep and this means that the team could be seriously counting on me.

I have set the bar pretty high for myself in a goal of sub 30 at the 8K for Brigg’s & Al’s. I have also set the bar very high in my goal of 1:23:00 at a 1/2 marathon in late October.

A tertiary goal that I have is to run 2,013 miles throughout 2013. I am behind on that goal but can still achieve it through hard work and dedication.

Running through a snowstorm

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Here in southeast Wisconsin, we dodged a bullet with this week’s storm. We got snow but not like Minnesota, Illinois and other parts of Wisconsin did or the mid-Atlantic region is expecting. That said, we’ve got our fair share this year. I, for one, appreciate the reprieve this time.

For those of you in the mid-Atlantic who may not be used to running in storms like this, what should you do? Well, the easy answer is to take it inside. Hit the treadmill, find an indoor facility, whatever works. That will surely work and, if available to you, may be the best option for the next day or two.

What if indoors isn’t an option? Well, first think about your safety. When I think safety, I usually say the same thing whether running or driving. I know how to take care of myself. I’m not worried about myself, I’m worried about some idiot out on the roads who is going to hit me. A couple of tons of steel vs. 100-some pounds of flesh and bone is not a fair fight. If you don’t have an outdoor option that you feel is safe from crazy drivers available, think about your safety first, even if that means taking a day or two off.

If you do have a safe place to run, next consider what you need to do for traction. Are you dealing with snow, ice or both? If you’re dealing with just snow, trail running shoes (cross country flats are an option if you’re a minimalist) with good off-road tread should handle the snow well. If you’re dealing with ice, consider something metal on the bottom of your shoe that will cut into the ice and give you some traction is very useful. The screw shoe is a very effective and cost-efficient option. You can also look up YakTrax or other similar slip-on traction tools. At least in Wisconsin, most sporting goods stores or department stores with sporting goods departments have these in stock during the winter months. A final option for the minimalists is to buy a pair of rubber soled cross country spikes. I’ve been using a pair of Saucony Kilkenny spikes the past two winters and they have worked amazingly well. They are also great for snow on top of ice because the spikes work on the ice and the tread is good for the snow.

If the snow is falling or blowing when you are heading out for a run, the next thing you need to think about is visibility. If you have lights for visibility while running in the dark, use them. If you don’t, dressing for visibility in a snowstorm is a little different. Dark or very bright colors that will contrast with whiteout conditions are best. Black, red, orange, colors like that.

Once you’ve figured out what to wear, all that’s left is figuring out where and how to run. If you have a speed workout planned, forget about it. Plan to be slower and, if necessary, plan to go a little shorter. Just get out and log the miles. As for direction, it’s best if you can start into the wind and return with it. Be careful on turns and avoid dangerous situations, especially anything involving cars. Remember, even if you are acting completely safely, you can’t be assured that the driver in the car going past you is doing the same. Have an escape plan and watch the cars as they pass to make sure you can get out of the way if you see them starting to slide.

Have fun out there! Running through a snow storm or in fresh snow after a storm can be a very fun experience if you take a few precautions and approach it with the right mindset.