So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bare (Bear?) Footing? Unless You Are Patient, Just Say No.

Adam Daoud, one of the researchers of the Lieberman study, responded to Tucker & Dugas' Science of Sport blog reviewing the study, and to a degree the NPR All Things Considered article from two days ago, which I took to task. Daoud says, among other points:

"The headlines that some, not all, reporters have used are potentially dangerous. We DO NOT argue that barefoot running reduces injury (as you recognize). The findings on impact forces compare FOREFOOT and HEEL strikes, NOT barefoot and shod foot strikes. I agree that runners today (grow up in shoes and run in shoes all their lives) in general have weaker muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the lower leg and foot and cannot transition into forefoot striking barefoot or in a minimal shoe quickly. But strength in these soft tissues can be increased over a LONG time. Even still, some people will truly not have the ability to improve their strength enough to be able to forefoot strike."
Kudos to Adam Daoud for being so up-front with this guidance. I only wish Vibram, the funding source of the Lieberman study, and all the other minimalist shoe makers, would do the same.
The biggest issue I have with people wanting to change to forefoot striking from midfoot or heel striking is the same issue I have with people who want to improve their running performance (endurance, speed, strength, race placing, etc.): They all want it (whatever it is) NOW. Arthur Lydiard saw this, especially in the American public, and decried the attitude.
It took thousands of years for us to go from a society where we spent more time barefoot than shod, so it might take a little while for those who consider moving back the other direction to get there. De-evolve, already? No. More like patience, Pad'wan learner.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

To Bear The Brunt Of The Barefoot Run...

...we're talking something akin to Shakespeare's sound & fury here, folks.
Everywhere I turn, during every run I take with other runners, someone talks about either the barefoot running or the minimalist shoe mania. I'm certain using the term mania is accurate, because the proponents, even the ones who have minimal knowledge of biomechanics or sports performance, are all in a barely-controlled lather. Naturally, when a National Public Radio news program comes out with the results of a research article published in the journal Nature, that's when you know the manic have turned mainstream.
Daniel E. Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist, & others looked at the foot strike patterns of runners who wore shoes, & compared them to the patterns of runners who did not. Since our ancestors didn't have K-Swiss K-Onas, or Nike Frees, or Newtons, or even Asics Speedstars, it's safe to presume they were better built to deal with traveling the world (whether at high or low speed) barefoot. Here's the abstract from Nature:
'Humans have engaged in endurance running for millions of years, but the modern running shoe was not invented until the 1970s. For most of human evolutionary history, runners were either barefoot or wore minimal footwear such as sandals or moccasins with smaller heels & little cushioning relative to modern running shoes. We wondered how runners coped with the impact caused by the foot colliding with the ground before the invention of the modern shoe. Here we show that habitually barefoot endurance runners often land on the forefoot (forefoot strike) before bringing down the heel, but they sometimes land with a flat foot (midfoot strike) or, less often, on the heel (rearfoot strike). In contrast, habitually shod runners mostly rear-foot strike, facilitated by the elevated & cushioned heel of the modern running shoe. Kinematic & kinetic analyses show that even on hard surfaces, barefoot runners who forefoot strike generate smaller collision forces than shod rearfoot strikers. This difference results primarily from a more plantarflexed foot at landing & more ankle compliance during impact, decreasing the effective mass of the body that collides with the ground. Forefoot & midfoot strike gaits were probably more common when humans ran barefoot or in minimal shoes, & may protect the feet & lower limbs from some of the impact-related injuries now experienced by a high percentage of runners.'
You've heard of driveway moments if you've listened to NPR long enough. Those are the moments when a report is so good you sit in the driveway & don't get out of the car until the report is done. Well, I nearly had a Tourette's Syndrome moment; I was still several miles from the house & grateful my windows were rolled up so nobody could hear me curse.
First - if your study is funded by a company which makes minimalist shoes (Vibram, to be exact!) you're not going to bite the hand that feeds you (or, your lab assistants; Lieberman says he received no personal income from the company). We also know the dictum of research universities: publish or perish. If someone's going to pay for research I can publish, so much the better.
Second - while Lieberman states he is a marathoner, the NPR interviewer does not tell us whether he is a three-hour guy or a five-hour guy. Yes, there is a difference between the running style of faster runners & the less fast ones. A person who is walking will naturally strike first near the heel & then roll forward onto the ball of the foot. Slower runners & joggers also tend to do the same, as a natural extension of the walking gait. As the speed of the run increases, the runner tends to do either one of two things:
They pound the heels into the ground because they're overstriding (a result of experience in sprint-focused sports such as football, basketball and baseball), which causes shock-related stress & the injuries which result, or...
They adapt; shortening the stride & strike closer to the midfoot or the forefoot.
Third - the report was not an injury study, & Lieberman has no hard science to support his theory. Besides, my shoeless ancestors weren't running on Gonzales Street in the East Pensacola Heights, which is a slab of concrete. It is more likely they were running & walking on grass or dirt trails, which meant they had a better surface in the first place on which to run.
So, before you go throwing those running shoes into the rubbish, follow the money behind the research. Take a closer look at your stride mechanics. You can't, & probably shouldn't change, but a small part of your running mechanics. There are little tweaks you can do, but beyond a certain point there is the risk of serious injuries which can make you Once A Runner. If you decide to try a minimalist shoe work into them gradually (once again, the ten percent rule of thumb!) to see whether your muscles, tendons, ligaments & bones can handle the change.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Things A Real New Orleans Runner Will Never Tell You

As my wife Suzanne & I have "matured" in our running lives we've slowly, steadily progressed out of the comfort zone we see in many of our running friends. It's difficult to maintain the joy of the sport, or realize just how good you have it (or how much better you can have it) in your home town until you travel somewhere else and run or race. Runners who race only in their home town, or don't take their running gear with them when they travel, miss the boat. Representing the northern half of Florida has allowed me to see cities like Chicago, Cincinnati, San Francisco & New Orleans, to name a few burgs, at a pace & perspective most business or pleasure travelers never get.
We've tried to encourage some of our close friends to toddle along with us on occasion to Key West, Jacksonville, Nashville, San Diego, Honolulu, and even outside the country...especially if there were cool places to see/be or cool races to do/get through. It didn't hurt to have: a) coaches who told sea stories about their favorite running places and partners, trying (like a parent does to a stubborn three-year-old) to diversify our running taste buds, and b) jobs which have required varying degrees of travel at diffferent times of the year.

And it doesn't necessarily take a convention trip to get us out the door. The challenge in our district is what I like to call the "Jumpy Two Equation." A friend of mine (her e-mail address includes "jumpy two") told me once she will travel to events as long as the event duration is longer than the drive. My district, from end-to end, is a nearly-eight hour drive. Since I don't like to race events longer than the half-marathon distance (a distance I can truly race & still feel semi-all right the next day), that kind of limits me to a two-hour window of opportunity...unless we (read: my wife) have business travel which can be tied in to justify such a junket, er, journey.

For Suzanne & me, a jaunt to New Orleans has progressed from being "strictly tourism" (Vieux Carre' all the way) to "race-related tourism" (run 10K, then Vieux Carre'), to "business & pleasure" (plug & pray, run 10K, Vieux Carre') to "checking in with the extended family." (5:20, Snooie Bread, Community Cafe', Speedo jokes, etc.) The more we run in NOLA, and with NOLA people when they come to see us, the more we find out what a real NOLA runner will - and will not - say.

We'll wait until after sunrise. This goes without regard to the season or climate conditions. A real NOLA runner knows to start a long training run early. Starting a run after sunrise during the summer is considered by local emergency room doctors to be an act of near-suicidal proportions. During winter, however, starting the run at the scheduled time is a sign of real NOLA runner discipline. For example, if you're running with 5:20 & your run is going longer than ten, it's better that you start earlier than you not show up to breakfast at the appointed hour.

Watch out for ice on the road. Okay, after Jackson Day weekend that might not be so correct. And the odds of seeing ice on the roadway - away from the Quarter - is fairly slim. Of course, this last weekend, Slim did show for 5:20. In fact, I saw Slim in a couple of locations. There are other hazards to running on NOLA roads which I've chalked up as normal state of affairs (usually treated with very comfortable shoes & ibuprofen for the next few days) after nearly ten years, but ice is one of those one-off things. No real NOLA runner will think to warn you about ice on the road. It just isn't all that common.

We can run on the median. Silly me, the social studies/history major. Why didn't they teach me this tidbit of information at the University of Tampa? Like anything else in NOLA, there are things which are said/done a little differently in NOLA than we highlanders know. I heard (NOTC president Aaron, & RRCA LA rep Betsy) Boudreaux talk about neutral ground when talking courses in the past. Didn't put two-and-two together until jogging up Esplanade & we got on that nice, wide, tree/grass/bush strip I called a median. You'd have thought I'd hit a canine land mine up there and kicked it into the face of a local. I was quickly corrected on that faux pas. 'Dude,' I was icily informed, 'we call those neutral ground.' I swear it's all the fault of the French & Spanish. Not me.

This is a hilly course. Unless a real NOLA runner leaves NOLA they never race on a really hilly course. Thing is, even the slightest positive elevation change is a negative to a real NOLA runner. Real NOLA runners have the most sensitive internal inclinometers known to man. Forget about taking them on an easy, slightly hilly 8.2-mile loop run. The real NOLA runner will not be looking at the scenery or the houses, but looking for the flattest route to the finish...or asking how many more climbs there are. One of the courses I've measured, a point-to-point from downtown Pensacola to Pensacola Beach, goes over two spans of water. Oh, there is a viaduct probably the height of the bridge on Wisner, which some have taken to call a bridge. So, rather than call that event the Double Bridge Run, I will recommend to the race organization, on behalf of all real NOLA runners, it be renamed "Two and a Half Bridges." Fair enough?

I've got other things to catch up on. The run is not over until you've had breakfast, or lunch, or adult beverage of choice. Usually this is where side bets, wagers or dares are paid in full, & roll is taken to determine whether you were really there. Ask 5:20. Once you've checked in & been duly chastened because of the shirt or hat you were forced to wear because your team lost, or you got 'chicked,' then you know the love of the real NOLA runner.
In towns where the act of running can be hazardous to one's health, it's nice to know there are other like-minded lunatics evading homicidal hack handlers, defusing "canine land mines" & enduring (or returning) pithy one-liners at street-corner orthopedic practitioners. It's our reality, & we take comfort in the common bond. See you guys in about six weeks, unless we can justify coming sooner...our bosses are beginning to get suspicious.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Lipstick On My Mirror

First, I want to wish each of you a Happy New Year, 2010. I hope you had a great holiday season & managed to stay healthy & happy. By now, I bet (or at least hope!) you have set at least one goal for the new year, or have made a resolution (if you’ve gone off track in some area) to change something in your lifestyle. This year I’m stepping away from some of the trial-and-error aspects of my training & reuniting with the tried-and-true ones.
I read something on the web the other night having to do with goal-setting – I’ve talked about setting S.M.A.R.T. goals before. This particular article added two more aspects to the goal-setting process, making the goal S.M.A.R.T.E.R.
S.M.A.R.T. goals are: Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Reasonable. Time-Focused.
And the E.R. added in stands for: Exciting. Recorded.
When I read the last two, I realize many well-meaning persons – even if they do make a smart goal – choose goals that have little if any excitement. How many write their goals down on a three-by-five card, sheet of paper, first page of their daily planner…or in lipstick on the mirror? Very few have something staring them in the face each day which makes them accountable for their plan of action.
That’s the difference between a not-so-exciting (e.g., weight-loss) goal & setting a more-exciting (e.g., finish a half-marathon) goal. Often the not-so-exciting goal outcome is the unintended result of achieving the exciting goal. It’s a lot easier to get up out of bed to go run ten miles on Sunday morning because you’re training for a spring half-marathon than it is to go run ten miles on Sunday morning because you want to lose ten pounds by Easter.
Speaking of Sunday morning runs; we've had a group doing an 8-mile loop, going out from a local park most weeks (weather permitting) at 7:30…give or take a minute. My Facebook announcement of the event usually says 7:25 (see Without Limits to learn why…). To make certain nobody is left behind we’ve regrouped every mile or so, or at the top of the hills… Once enough folks are familiar with the loop I can think about going out in pace groups, but for the time being I want to make certain everyone is accounted for. Some of my masters’ swimming & triathlon companions & some of the local RRCA club members have come for early season training. Most everyone heads off to complete their plan of the day, but we’ve left coffee/bagels on the agenda in case one feels compelled to recover with the help of caffeine, complex carbohydrates & other good stuff.
Weather conditions haven’t been conducive to track work lately. It’s depressing (for me, too!) to train in the dark & cold. But this is temporary – it’s easier for all to tolerate when we’re all suffering together. I’ll show up at the track if you do.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Resolution Versus Resolve

res-o-lu-tion -n. - 1. a formal expression of opinion or intention made, usually after voting, by a formal organization, a legislature, a club, or other group. 2. a resolve or determination: to make a firm resolution to do something. 3. the act of resolving or determining upon an action or course of action, method, procedure, etc. 4. the mental state or quality of being resolved or resolute; firmness of purpose.
Naturally, with the passing of the old Gregorian calendar year & the start of the new one comes a well-worn & often useless activity. More often than not this activity consists of two steps: Whine like a seven-year-old school girl about the failure, shortcoming, or character flaw which boiled to the surface in the past year. Make some cockamamie - & often unattainable - promise to transform failure into success, shortcoming into strength, & character flaw into character-reinforcing trait...oh, & all within the scope of the next 365 days.
After hearing too many of my old contemporaries go through this song-and-dance I resolved to do two things in years past: Rather than make any resolutions at the new year, I would engage in continuous improvement. When confronted by a person making a resolution without a reasonable goal...or a plan of action to reach it...I would challenge them to either develop & execute a realistic plan to achieve a reasonable goal or call them on their obvious lack of seriousness.

It makes me a little unpopular at holiday parties & races, to say the least.
My wife & I were sitting in a dining establishment on the beach the other day, talking about what we would like to achieve in the new year. She spent the previous Friday evening socializing with her closest friend, celebrating one of those milestone birthdays, & had partaken of a little more of the fermented, grain-derived beverages than she would have least when seen in the light of the "elephantine" feeling she had during her Sunday morning long run. When your Friday evening beer intake slows you down all the way to midday Sunday, I guess you could say that is enough beer.

I'm not going to get all self-righteous here & say I don't like beer. In fact, I love beer. I'm in firm agreement with Benjamin Franklin and the Warsteiner brewery: Beer is proof that God loves us & wants us to be happy. Oh, and, life is too short to drink cheap beer.
My coach's coach, Bob Schul, never liked his athletes drinking beer. Bob was of the opinion beer made for slower running; of course, when you're a slow runner in the first place, what's the big deal? But as I've read more medical-based research in the past year, in running, triathlon & swimming magazines, it has finally sunk in through my thick skull that beer might be proof of the Almighty's compassion toward humanity, but can do a number on a human being's recovery from workouts. Who knew alcohol could slow the production of human growth hormone & delay workout recovery? And when you get to be my age, approaching a milestone birthday faster than I care to admit, recovery takes just a little longer.

But you're not going to see me do a complete & utter cut-back to no beer whatsoever. Ben Franklin might not have been into running, cycling or swimming fast, but he knew a good deal about human nature. Face is short & we are dead a long time. So, if there's going to be beer passing my lips, it will pass my lips less often, & it will be of higher quality.
So for me, while 2009 was a year of trial & error, 2010 is more likely going to be a year of returning a little closer to the tried & true. Longer, easier stuff on the easy days; shorter, intense stuff on the hard days. Recovery as often as practicable. Cross-training as often as possible. And fun as often as I can get away with it. Because...if it isn't fun, then why the hell am I doing it?