Monthly Archives: December 2009

17 To gel or not to gel?

I’ve been reading a new book my wife got me for Christmas…Healthy Intelligent Training: The Proven Principles of Arthur Lydiard by Dr. Keith Livingstone. I’ve always been a fan of Lydiard’s methods and think he was way ahead of his time. I also think many folks dabble in Lydiard and don’t truly understand him. This book puts his methods in perspective and also has the benefit of our current understanding of physiology, training response, etc. It’s a geeky training book, but really good.

Anyway, point of the post…

It has an interesting section on carb intake (e.g. gel, energy drink, etc.) on long runs in training—not racing. It says we should not use ANY carbs during long training runs of up to 3-3 1/2 hours (anything over that, supplementing carbs is recommended). Also, keep in mind these are aerobic steady state runs, not hard pace. They do recommend water and electrolytes (especially if it’s hot), but no carbs in order to train our systems to conserve glycogen and burn fat.

The basic physiological premise is this…

While running slowly increases fat burning for fuel, another way to really increase fat burning is to run when the blood glycogen (carb) stores are lowered. When muscle glycogen stores are lowered, fat burning really goes up since there is little carbohydrate available to utilize. Carb stores are lowered after 1 to 2 hours of running so you want to do 30-90 minutes of running AFTER this to maximize fat burning and to help stimulate the body to store more muscle glycogen for future runs (and races). When running (and racing) for this long, the blood glucose level also lowers. Ingesting carbohydrates, either through a sports drink or energy gels, before and during the run, maintains your blood glucose level. This no carb approach challenges the body to run with a lowered blood glucose level (and over time) adapt to better handle this state of lowered blood glucose.

The long, steady state runs must be at least two hours. The longer the better. If you’re used to gels during long runs, you’ll have to ween yourself, as your body is adapted to the constant supply of blood glucose and not the lowered state. But, as you reduce, the body will adapt and you’ll eventually be able to run up to 3 1/2 hours without any carbs (Which could take up to 8 weeks to adapt fully, depending on the individual). They also recommend not having any right before the workout either. Have normal breakfast (several hours before), then go train. This is for training only, then, in a race, you give yourself the normal dose and your body feels pampered. Interesting stuff.

NOTE: The book does say, that when you do this in training, you need to be ready to ingest carbs, protein and fat immediately afterward, or at a minimum within that 30 minute window after run completion. You’ll be low and need to get your glycogen levels back up for recovery and next day training. It’s just for during the long run.

Question…have any of you tried this? I know the Skaggs brothers practice this and so does Tony Krupicka. I’ve been thinking about it for a while (the weening off completely for 2-3 hour runs). And, over the past season, have actually started ingesting less gel on long training runs than I would in a race and not taking any up to 2 hours or so…occasionally, but not consistently. However, this takes it to a different level and has a few studies to back it up. Anyway, found it interesting and thought I’d share it. Giddyup!

4 The Minimalist Running Transition: Christmas update

It’s Christmas Eve, kids are in bed, and my wife and I are getting ready to settle down for a Christmas Eve movie in front of the fire with the glow of Christmas tree lights. Life is awfully good. I’m feeling mighty blessed.

So, it’s been a few days since I posted and thought I’d give a quick update on my minimalist shoe transition. Actually, I’m pretty stoked with the process so far. Starting last Friday, I decided to put in a good 7 day block of training, exclusively in minimalist shoes and Vibram Five Fingers and finish with Christmas day off and rest. Some of you may not be interested in so much detail from my 7 day training block (sorry), but I thought I’d include it in case it could be of help for someone trying to make the transition to a minimalist running shoe.

First off, I’m glad I was really careful in the first 4 week, post-100 miler with the couple weeks walking barefoot increasingly more, walking in the Vibram Five Fingers, then slowly running short stints in them and slowly weening off my arch supports over a few more weeks in minimalist shoes. I’m starting to see the fruit of my patience (which, for those who know me well, I’m not the most patient person on the block). That fruit is the culmination of a successful 7 day training block exclusively in minimalist shoes and no arch supports. I was able to run 7 days in a row for a total of 82.9 miles (90% on dirt).

Breakdown of shoes by mileage:

Breakdown of the last week by runs:

  • Friday: 16.1 mile run in NB MT100s, 1400 feet of climbing, dirt 4wd roads and trail (NOTE: This was my first longer run in a minimalist shoe since working through the transitional process of slowly weening off arch support insoles in the Brooks Launch and into the New Balance MT100 over a period of 4 weeks. 10 days prior to this run, I completely threw my arch supports aside to train all my mileage in minimalist shoes or VFFs. Besides normal maintenance runs of 5-8 miles, I’d done one 11 miler 8 days before this particular longer run in the NB MT100s…I have to admit, I was nervous on this run, but everything went smoothly.)
  • Saturday: 13.1 miles total: 10 mile fartlek trail run in NB MT100s with 800 feet of climbing, then 3.1 mile cooldown in VFFs on trail (left inside ankle…weak ankle…was a touch fatigued after this run, but it went away within an hour or two of completing the workout).
  • Sunday: 9.2 miles total: 6.2 night fartlek trail run in NB MT100s, then 3 mile cooldown in VFFs on grass and partially on paved pathway. (Since starting the transition, this was my 8th running session in VFFs and it felt great—kind of a breakthrough run where I felt smooth and light, not awkward.)
  • Monday: 8 mile fartlek trail run in NB MT100s, 800 feet of climbing with Bessie Butte summit.
  • Tuesday: 10.5 miles total: 8.4 mile tempo run in Asics HyperSpeed 3s on dirt/pavement mix, then 2.1 mile cooldown in VFFs on pavement.
  • Wednesday: 20 mile run in NB MT100s, 800 feet of climbing (with Awbrey Butte summit), mostly trail, some pavement.
  • Thursday: 6 mile trail run in VFFs (This was an awesome run, another breakthrough run in the VFFs, did a 2 mile rolling trail, then climbed up singletrack 1 mile climb on the backside of Green Mountain at sunset, then returned the same route. Feet, ankles and arches felt good. This run really had me thinking of how to incorporate some 6+ milers in the VFFs in my training).

I’m fortunate in that my time passively barefoot can be quite extensive since I work out of my house. I also got 4 runs in the VFFs this week—I’ve been consistently mixing them into my training runs the past few weeks, 3-4 times a week, 10%-15% of my weekly mileage. Both of these aspects (passive barefoot and running in the VFFs) are really doing wonders for my ankle and arch strength. I think this combo is the primary factor for the quickness of my transition to the minimalist shoes. I’m really noticing a difference walking barefoot and standing barefoot. My arches and ankles feel springy and strong and my Plantar Fasciitis tightness is gone (keep in mind, this is not actual PF, but I’ve had lingering left foot PF-type tightness since my bout in 2007). The calf soreness I had at the beginning of the transition is gone now. The calves do get tight, especially after today’s 6 mile trail run in the VFFs, but it all feels like a normal tightness. The overall adaptation seems to be moving right along. I’m pretty excited. And, just in time for Christmas!

31 The Minimalist Running Trend

A person recently commented on my blog and inspired me to write about my thoughts on the current trend toward barefoot and minimalist running—thanks Eric. He also mentioned being inspired after reading Born To Run to go minimalist and run barefoot. He runs barefoot in the warmer months and runs in a XC flat in the colder months (e.g. barefoot feel and less $$).

I have been interested in this for several years…ever since I read an article on Kenyan training and the fact that the average Kenyan child run commutes barefoot 7.5km (that’s 4.6 miles) to school every day—not once—but 4 times a day! To school, home at lunch, back to school for afternoon session, back home. That’s an average of 18.4 miles per day, 5 days a week. That’s 92 miles per week—barefoot—from a young age. No wonder they’re kicking American butt in distance running.

Upon reading Born To Run this fall, it became the cliched “straw that broke the camel’s back” in my mental progression toward taking the minimalist plunge. I made it my goal that after Ozark 100’s completion, I would ween myself off the high-heeled running shoes with aftermarket arch supports.

So, is this trend for real? I think so. Almost everyone in my running circle is talking about it. I just ran into Kami Semick today at Thump Coffee in downtown Bend and we sat down and talked running for a while. She’s making the transition too. She’s been in orthotics for years, but running in a 7oz. racing flat with them. She admits she’s addicted to them, but is starting to ween by spending non-running time in the Vibram Five Fingers and seeing her feet strength increase.

So, what’s my opinion on this trend—it’s awesome, as long as us longtime shod runners take it slow. Us tenderfooted Americans need to transition slowly. I think that transition can be quicker than you think, especially if you spend a lot of off-running time (as well as some running time) barefoot. I’m happy to say that my personal transition has been quicker than expected. But, overall…yes, this is an awesome trend.

Shoe companies have gone the way of fashion and marketing gadgetry and make shoes into a “techie” industry that makes some flamboyant claims at cures, corrections, and injury prevention. If these high-tech-thingamabobs are supposed to prevent running injuries by shielding us from impact, correcting our pronation, and guiding our heel to toe transition—then why is the statistical data showing that 2 out of every 3 runners are sidelined every year because of a running injury? That’s over 60%!!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a graphic designer and understand advertising, the customer, and the market. The hardcore, everyday runner is NOT the majority of the market share in the running shoe industry. Wearing those techie-looking Nike’s with your designer jeans is the market.

But, this trend and talk about barefoot running, spending time barefoot, lower-heel-less-shoe-no-arch-support, and Vibram Five Fingers is a good thing for runners. Hopefully it will get the shoe makers to come out with a few options, much like New Balance’s MT100 Trail shoe. A great ultrarunning minimalist shoe. It has a rock plate for protection for bombing off your favorite gnarly peak, a very flat-no-rounded-edges-no-arch insole and the heel is lower than a normal running shoe. We need more of that from shoe companies.

The good news is that we still have XC flats to choose from, and right now, they are relatively inexpensive compared to the normal running shoe. Not a lot of rock protection, but they’re a great shoe to have in your arsenal of minimalist training shoes. I know that more than one shoe is the antithesis of “minimalist,” but, hey, I like shoes. I can’t see my self ever being a hardcore barefoot-only runner. I’ll take a more fringe-of-the-mainstream approach and run barefoot sometimes, Vibram Five Fingers sometimes, minimalist shoes sometimes, and barefoot most of the non-running time.

With that said, I think the current trend toward less shoe, less heel, and anything else that encourages time barefoot is good for not just American runners, but running in general. The African barefoot running culture has shown us that.

4 Minimalist Shoe Transition: Through the Eyes of Vibram Five Fingers

I really had a small “Ah-Ha” moment today. After the 16 miler yesterday in the New Balance MT100s, I got up and ran a 10 mile trail run again this morning in them. Then, immediately at the trailhead, swapped to my Vibram Five Finger Flows and cruised another 5k for a cooldown in the woods. I’m beginning to see that barefoot running sessions mixed in are a must. They do a few simple things that I find essential:

1) They remind you of true proper form (as your feet lack sensory perception in shoes and drift off into laziness). You have to land on your midfoot and under your center of gravity and cannot overstride—ever.
2) The obvious one—strengthens your feet and lower legs.
3) Once you get past the “oh man, it hurts to run without shoes” adaptation phase, you learn to strike extremely lightly (even if you thought you were a light striker, this will take you to a new level of lightness).

Now, I know you hardcore barefooters out there are “in the know” already on all this jive. And, don’t necessarily think that VFFs are true barefoot running. I feel you. But, I do live in Central Oregon and it is winter—so, having 3mm of Vibram under my feet and some neoprene on top is pretty darn nice. Plus, I have a lifetime of lazy, weak feet from wearing shoes on these old dogs and I still want to race hard in at least 6 ultras this season. I’ll take my less-than-hardcore-balanced-variety-and-moderation approach, with the added benefit of not dealing with accidental cuts on my feet to set back my training.

All in all, I look forward to continuing to ramp up the VFF sessions this season. I want to work up to longer ones (10-15 miles). After some of my excited blabbering about the transition and the role of the VFFs to Teague at FootZone, he mentioned he might add a VFF category to the Dirty Half this year. Hmm, half marathon trail race in the VFFs…and I have ’til June to get ready. Giddyup!

4 Winterized Minimalist Studded Shoes

Here’s a few quick photos of my studded set up for winter. Since I’ve opted to go minimalist on my shoes, I’ve also opted to come up with the most minimalist studded shoe set up too. The New Balance MT100s (on right)…which I’ve only put studs in the forefoot (4 total). And, I also included a photo of the New Balance 904 Trail (left) that I hacked off the heel’s outsole to lower it, as it had a pretty elevated heel. I did add 2 studs in the heel of the 904s since there is NO tread anymore. However, I have to admit…since running in the MT100s, I haven’t really run in the 904s anymore. But, thought I’d show them for fun.

For more info and a step by step “How-To” on studding your shoes, click here and see my post from 2008.

12 Minimalist Longer Run

I ventured out for a 16 miler this morning in the New Balance MT100s. This was my first longer run in them since starting my minimalist transition to a lighter, non-arch supported shoe 4 weeks ago. I had worked up to 11 miles once so far, but have been consistently doing 7-8 miles in the minimalist set-up.

I opted to head out into the high desert in search of dry ground (so I took the studs out of my MT 100s) and went to scout the Bad Ass 50k loop for our upcoming Jan. 2nd fat ass fun run that Meissner and I organize.
The route I chose is a 16 mile lollipop loop that starts in the Badlands and hits the 9 mile Bad Ass 50k loop on it’s backside at the mouth of Smith Canyon (Basically all the elevation gain/loss in the above profile is the 9 mile course loop). It climbs 4 miles up the canyon, then around and over a large Cinder Butte on an ATV trail (the pinnacle part of the profile), before returning back to the opening of the canyon and back into the Badlands. It’s mainly soft, sandy double track and with the recent warm snap of highs in the upper 40s and mainly rain…almost all the snow is gone out there and the double track was soft…I thought it a good route to break in my first longer run without arch supports and in the light MT100s, plus I’ve been really itching to try these shoes out on some more gnarly, technical footing, which the Cinder Butte’s ATV trail has.

I had no issues today. I just concentrated on really relaxing and lifting my feet quickly. I really think my shorter runs in the Vibram Five Fingers are helping this issue and really ramping my foot strength up faster than if I had only transitioned using running shoes. To give an example of how I’ve been using the VFFs, I ran a 7.2 mile fartlek run on Wednesday in the MT100s, then a 2.6 mile cooldown on rough, frost-heave grass in the VFFs at a leisurely 9-10/min pace.

My left ankle is definitely getting stronger, it didn’t bother me today. And another nice thing—my normal left foot, arch tightness (which has morphed into Plantar Fasciitis symptoms at times) is not really bothering me anymore—unless I put on tighter shoes after I run—if I go barefoot after my runs for a while and spread my toes and work them around, they feel good. I also am finding the morton’s neuroma-type soreness I had in my right foot’s metatarsal from time to time has gone away too. The symptoms of tight, built up shoes? Hmm…suspect for sure.

I’m barefoot in my office right now, after my run this morning, picking up and dropping, working my feet on a golf ball. I’m really starting to hate having shoes on. I spent the whole day in my VFFs on Wed around town (plus my workout mentioned). However, yesterday I wore some old minimalist Saucony’s (ya know, the funky old-school stylin’ kind), as I took a day off from running, and my feet couldn’t wait to get out of them last night. They actually were kind of sore and tight feeling. But, after being barefoot last night in the house and stretching them out, today they feel good.

I’m pretty pumped about how well this transition has been going. I have to say I love the lightness of the MT100s on the 16 miler today. Nimble, both climbing and descending on technical trail. I was able to easily get on my midfoot on landings downhill vs. the challenge of getting around and occasionally catching the heel on the raised-heels of normal running shoes. Giddyup!

25 The Minimalist Running Transition Continues

I’m on my 4th week of my transition to a more minimalist running shoe and ditching the aftermarket arch supports I’ve been running in for years. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, but needed to wait until the off-season to do it so I could take it slow and allow my feet and lower legs to adapt to the new stress.

I haven’t been barefoot much for 2 years after a frustrating bout of plantar fasciitis in early 2007. I used to go barefoot always at home, but quit after that and have been shod most of the time since, except for some dabbling in my first pair of Vibram Five Finger Flows while playing with my kids or doing yard work during the past two summers.

As for my current transitional phase…

The first 2 weeks, post-Ozark Trail 100, I spent an increasing amount of time barefoot and doing things around town in the my black Vibram Five Finger KSO’s while recovering from the 100 miler. After the initial 2 weeks off running and barefoot time walking and becoming comfortable unshod again, I started to run in non-arch supports about 30 minutes every other day, with my normal running shoe set-up (e.g. arch support) on all other days.

The 2nd week of running, I kept that same regimen (every other day), but added in three 6-12 minute VFF runs at the end of my normal runs as a cooldowns in the latter part of the week (3 days in a row). I would do some total barefoot running if weather would allow, but it’s winter in full swing here right now. Anyway, by this time, I was starting to feel more comfortable without my arch supports in.

Once into week 3 of running, I ditched my arch support altogether for all my runs and got up to an 11 mile trail run in 4 inches of snow in the Badlands in minimalist shoes (A very well broken in New Balance 904 Trail with the rear half of tread cut off to lower the heel). The next day I turned around and did a 7.5 mile tempo in the Inov-8 F-lite 230—which left me with really sore calves. Part of the issue is this shoe is too narrow in the forefoot for my foot shape. I couldn’t spread my toes very well right before foot strike, which you need to do to immulate an unshod foot strike.

I took an easy day the next day and only did a 2 mile easy VFF run in the evening and felt better the next day. Still had soreness, but I chalked it up to too much, too soon and the fact that there has to be some adaptation with regard to my lower legs. With a lower heel position on foot strike, you really utilize your calves and achilles much more deeply than with a elevated-heel running shoe. So, this is just part of the adaptation my legs have to deal with. Much like your first hard downhill mountain running session to prepare your quads for 100 mile mountain races. 3-4 days of deep soreness, then they come out the other side stronger. Stress and adaptation.

This week I really felt more comfortable. I studded the forefoot of my New Balance MT100s and did a nice 8.5 miler on semi-packed snow with a quick summit of Horse Butte in the middle. The calf soreness is almost completely gone and I’m feeling more natural in the altered foot strike that the low-heeled, minimal shoe requires. Anything over 1 1/2 hours of running, I’m still planning on starting in my minimal shoe and carrying the arch supports with me just in case. Just tryin’ to keep on, keepin’ on.

Lastly…I found a very interesting article on barefoot running, running injuries, and elevated heel running shoes called Athletic Footwear and Running Injuries…interesting read. Giddyup!

3 Below Zero Nordic Ski

Finish of a 2 hour Nordic Ski. Negative 4 degrees at 11am.

I was getting cabin fever after a couple of days of single digits and a very short 35 minute run in the snow yesterday. So, I decided to brave the elements this morning and nordic ski. After a business breakfast with some other folks in town, I headed out to Virginia Meissner Snow Park and went for a 2 hour Classic XC Ski. Up Tangent Loop toward Swampy Lakes, then the out and back to Swede Ridge Shelter (breaking trail) and back Tangent Loop for a total ski of almost 10 miles. It was beautiful. Clear blue sky. Snow is fast. I had the whole forest to myself (except for the last half mile of trail I ran into a few folks heading out). Not too many skiers out today. It was negative 4 degrees when I started, and the same when I finished. I have a little cold burn on my nose and cheeks, but was well worth the effort. Giddyup!

8 Jingle Bell 5k and Vibram Five Finger Night Run

I toed the line at the very cold Jingle Bell 5k today in Bend. A cold front blew in last night and dropped the temps into the 20s. This has become an annual tradition for me. My kids do the Kids Fun Run through downtown, I run the 5k and jog back to meet the family and watch the Christmas Parade downtown. Had a great time today. The 5k course is about a tenth of a mile long (3.2 miles), with a nice little small hill in the last 1/4 mile. Ran the first mile in 5:34, second in 5:52, and the third in 5:41. Came across the line in 5th for an overall time of 18:15. Fun day.

Went out tonight for a 1.3 mile “shake out the legs” night run in the Vibram Five Fingers. I’m really starting to like dabbling in these as I make the final transition out of my aftermarket insoles (BioFits) and to the New Balance MT100s. My goal is to get up to 20 minutes comfortably in the VFFs…once I’m there with no discomfort, I’m treating myself to a cool trail run in them. Kind of a personal gift…have to wait, if I go out too soon, I’ll get all into the run and overdo it. I know myself too well! Giddyup.

8 Minimalist Running—tapping into your natural runner

I’ve been thinking a lot about minimalist running lately and the way we are built for running. Also, I’ve been contemplating our “holistic” running system (nutrition, feet, breathing, and mind). I’m in the off-season and this is a time of year I reflect.

I just started running again after some short time off after Ozark Trail 100 and I’m using this time to transition to a more minimalist running shoe. I’ve already been dabbling in the Vibram Five Fingers. I walk around town a few days a week in them. Do short jogging sessions in them. Spend time barefoot.

I’m also weaning myself off an aftermarket insole I’ve used for years. My feet have been locked up since 2003 in some kind of insole (e.g. plastic orthotic, then flexible orthotic, then aftermarket insole)…I’ve been slowing weaning myself to more and more of a neutral shoe with a over the counter insole. Now it’s time to make the final switch. My shoe of choice to go to is the New Balance MT 100. The runs I’ve done in them have been short but good. I’m doing it slowly as my feet adjust. It definitely feels better to run without the insole in a lightweight trainer (more nimble, more sensitive to the terrain)…but, I know I have weak muscles in my feet for a full out switch over. Baby steps. Every other day. Then when I feel good, the final transition.

This minimalist approach got me thinking about how we breathe when running with regard to how to teach my son to breathe while running. My wife and I are raising two kids that are being introduced to running. My young son just completed a fall session of a kids running club and he had some issues with side cramping. I jogged next to him on one of their little XC time trials and realized he was breathing through his mouth very sporadically. Well, this got me thinking about breathing and how to teach it. I came across a very interesting article by a running coach called Josh McDougal is a Perfect Example of What is Wrong With High School Track by John Raucci and I thought I’d share it. He covers feet, breathing, mind, training…the building blocks of a lifetime of running. If you have the time, read this very long, but very good article. Giddyup!