Training

All things training. Mostly advice and tips but maybe questions, general comments, or who knows what else.

Minimalist shoes and the boom/bust cycle

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

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Earlier this week, it was reported sales of minimalist shoes "plummetted" by more than 10% in the first quarter of 2013. It’s being reported that the "fad" is over. People are realizing that minimalist shoes are getting them injured and going back to stability and support shoes. So is this really what’s happening?

I’d argue that, in a way, this is what’s happening but it’s more complex than just that. As with many things (low fat diets followed by low carb diets, for example) the pendulum swung. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the attitude toward shoes was the bigger the better. Those of us who didn’t want a whole lot of foam and rubber between our feet and the ground were forced to choose from an ever-decreasing list of choices. Eventually, we were down to a handful of "lightweight trainers" or racing flats.

Then came Born to Run. I have some issues with the book (I have been thinking of tackling one big issue I have yet to find an answer to in a blog post but I always feel like I’d just be tilting at windmills when I think of typing something up). However, one benefit is that it swung the pendulum. People began thinking maybe bigger isn’t always better. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the pendulum swung too far, too fast. People went from wearing Brooks Beasts and other similar shoes to Vibram FiveFingers without a proper transition down the line. As I’ve often stated, you can’t go from having your shoe do all the work for you to having it do no work for you overnight without problems. It can take years to go from a fairly moderate traditional trainer to a fairly moderate "minimalist" shoe or racing flat. To go from one extreme to the other in days, weeks or even months is just asking for problems. Even if you don’t need all that shoe, you can’t just ditch it overnight after you’ve become used to it and, to some extent, dependent on it. Worse yet, the message for a while was that minimalism or even barefooting is right for everyone. It will cure every injury, it will make you more efficient and faster. There are no down sides, only benefits.

Not surprisingly, the correction came along. People got hurt, either because they tried to change too fast or because they simply aren’t cut out to run in minimal shoes. People gave up on minimalism. Some people stuck to it because it worked for them but some left. This is what we’re seeing now. Of course, in the marketplace, the manufacturers are usually behind on trends like this. Just like you couldn’t get enough shoes labeled "minimal" a few years ago and they sold at outrageous prices, you’re now seeing a wide selection and prices are dropping rapidly.

What do these market changes mean? Well, there are now more people wearing "minimal" shoes than there were several years ago. I think manufacturers will to some extent keep making shoes for this market. It may be a niche market but it’s large enough that I don’t think Nike, Saucony, Brooks and others want to ignore it. In the meantime, hopefully that pendulum swing will settle to a more reasonable middle ground. People who need more shoe shouldn’t be shamed into getting less shoe than they need to stay healthy. At the same time, people who don’t need so much shoe shouldn’t be ridiculed for wearing racing flats or "minimal" shoes if that’s what works for them.

I’d love to see people settle into a state of saying "I want to wear as much shoe as I need but no more, whatever that means". If you don’t need the 17 ounce shoe, try the 15 ounce shoe. If that still seems like more than you need, try the 13 ounce shoe. Eventually, you’ll find your sweet spot. That’s where you want to be. More isn’t always better but less also isn’t always better. Some people will still be wearing the 17 ounce shoe because that is what they need. Others will keep wearing FiveFingers because that is the shoe that works for them.

In the meantime, I’ll keep sticking with my roughly 7 ounce moderately cushioned shoes. In April, I even bought my first pair of "minimal" shoes (see the picture at the top of the post to see what I will be wearing as I head out to run today). They cost me less than the racing flats I usually get and, structurally, are extremely similar. I like the current market. The price points are very nice.

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Effects of sports drinks in mid-distance road racing

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

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For terms of this post, I’m considering anything 90 minutes and under to be a "mid-distance" race. For most of us, that would be somewhere between 15K and half marathon at the upper limit.

This is something I’ve often wondered about. We know our bodies can store enough glycogen for about 90 minutes of running so how useful are sports drinks in a race of less than 90 minutes? Your body already has enough fuel on board, does it really help to top off the tank?

This study suggests the answer might be no.

What does this tell us? Well, we might be just as well off with water as with a sports drink during a race that is less than 90 minutes long. Topping off the tank doesn’t appear to do anything for us. This is good news for runners who have sensitive stomachs and may not be able to handle sports drinks in shorter, more intense races.

Of course, as with all studies, this finds that on average sports drinks don’t help. Your results may vary. However, if you have trouble taking a sports drink during a shorter, more intense race, don’t get too worried about it. Especially if it gives you problems, you might be better off without it and the person next to you taking one may not be gaining a performance benefit anyway.

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Running by effort

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

I think I sometimes drive the runners I coach crazy talking about efforts. Easy, 10K effort, 5K effort, half marathon effort. These are common phrases in discussions.

Just this past week, I’ve had discussions with three runners I coach on what exactly these efforts mean and/or why I prefer training by effort over other methods, such as pace. I may explore this topic further in a future post but I’d like to share some high level thoughts on a few key points that I believe make training by effort the best way to train.

1) Training by effort helps you learn the correct effort to run a race at. You’re going to make a few mistakes when learning a new skill like running by effort. Would you rather make those mistakes and learn from them in a workout or in a race? Why is this skill important in racing? Read on…

2) Training and racing by effort allows you to adjust for variables on the fly. Once you’ve honed your skill to run by effort, you will naturally adjust for things like adverse (or more ideal than expected) weather conditions, course related factors such as hills or even factors such as the lack of sleep you got last night or the stress of a bad day at work. Running simply by pace won’t account for these factors and will leave you running a less than optimal pace/effort level. Running by heart rate may help you with some of these factors but it won’t do much when your legs are fatigued because you helped your friend move yesterday. Also, your heart rate doesn’t always respond to all stresses in an expected way and doesn’t always respond to your effort level instantly. If you fine tune your ability to feel your effort, you can know instantly when your effort level changes. Relying on heart rate may leave a delayed response. You’ll find out before disaster strikes but will you find out in time to adjust for an optimal performance?

3) Running by effort ensures you’re doing the workout you intend to do. When trying to stimulate a physiological response from our training, we need to hit a certain effort level. Depending on some of the factors mentioned above (weather, course factors, life factors leading to more or less stress than usual) a given pace may be too fast or too slow to best target the training stimulus we want to focus on. If you’re doing a workout that should target 5K pace/effort but you take the workout to the hills, you have to back off your pace. How much? Every hill is different. It’s hard to tell without going by effort.

4) Running by effort removes your succeptibility to technological glitches. Just last week, I had a run where my Garmin flaked out. It had me starting far from where I actually did start and reported a first mile of 3:31. No problem. I wasn’t relying on it so I just ignored it and figured it was just a stopwatch for that run. What if I was relying on it to set my pace? Would I have been lost until it locked into my location? What if this happened on race day and I was relying on it to set my race pace?

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Effect of weight loss (dehydration) and muscle break down on performance

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

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Writing about another study (I promise this blog won’t become all about reviewing studies but this will be a part of it). This time, a study of how weight loss as a proxy for dehydration and myoglobinuria as a proxy for muscle breakdown are related to reduction in muscle power. Essentially, the idea of this study is to determine what the correlation is between late race muscle fatigue and two commonly held explanations for that muscle fatigue.

In a break from commonly held assumptions, body mass loss (the proxy for dehydration) did not seem to affect muscle power output. Participants in the study ranged from gaining body mass to losing more than 4% of body mass (that would be 6 pounds for a 150 pound person) during a marathon but loss of power output was not correlated with body mass loss.

On the other hand, there is a quite strong correlation between myoglobinuria production (the proxy for muscle breakdown) and muscle fatigue.

What does this tell us? Well, I would still strongly suggest not ignoring fluids during a marathon, especially a warm weather marathon. However, don’t go to extremes. I recall a few individuals telling me that I should follow their hydration plans because they actually gained weight during marathons. Why should we believe that this is ideal? It’s been shown that the best marathoners tend to lose weight during marathons, typically in the range of 5% of body weight but some even more. Now, we have more evidence that this singular focus on hydration may not help.

Instead, we should be focused on not breaking down our muscles. So how do we do that? We train our muscles. Nothing all that new here. Lots of long runs, lots of volume at faster paces. In addition, though, I think this suggests again the importance of not going out too fast. If you go out too fast, your muscles are going to break down earlier. This will reduce their ability to keep performing at an optimal level earlier than if you go out on pace or even negative split a bit.

With Boston coming, here’s another thought. The early miles are downhill. Getting too carried away on early downhills will damage your muscles, especially the quads, even more. We all know (I hope) it’s important to not get too carried away early at Boston. This likely explains one reason for that. Your muscles will break down earlier and you’ll again lose your ability to perform at an optimal level earlier than if you play it safe on the early downhills.

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Breaking news: Hill repeats are good for your 5K

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

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Hill repeats will of course help if you’re racing here

Well, maybe not exactly breaking but a recent study backs up what we’ve known for some time. It also adds to the picture a bit.

This study found that hill repeats of any kind improved a runner’s 5K performance by about 2%. That’s a pretty significant number. For a 20 minute 5K runner, 2% would be a 24 second improvement.

What I found interesting here is that they looked at repeats at different intensities and how that affected running economy and 5K performance. The result was that the highest intensity hill repeats improved running economy the most but, to quote the author, "there was no clear optimum for time-trial performance". In other words, while running economy improved most with the highest intensity hill repeats, other factors played into making 5K performance gains similar across all intensities.

What to take from this? First, hill repeats are good. No news here. Second, high intensity repeats are great for running economy. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise. We’ve known that short bursts of high intensity work are good for running economy already. That’s why we all do strides, even marathoners. Many runners would already at times take those strides to a hill to get a little more intensity. Third, there are other benefits to longer repeats. Again, we already knew this. That’s why hill repeats have been popular for decades.

So why am I writing about something that just tells us what we already know? First, it’s always good to make sure the science confirms what you already believe. Second, it never hurts to remind ourselves of what we’ve already known. We all know strides are good for us but I know I’ve forgotten this lesson at times and gotten away from doing strides. Have you gotten away from hill repeats? Maybe this is an opportunity to consider whether it would be a good idea to add them back.

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