Monday, May 28, 2012

Week 8: Run a mile in my shoes

SHOES. I swear I have had more trouble with running shoes lately than I ever thought possible. Maybe if they didn’t make about 3 million different kinds it would be easier to find a shoe that feels good, I don’t know. Maybe I just need to be less picky.

Chris has no issues with shoes. He has two pairs of New Balance sneakers and he likes them both. He loves these 870s

because they are bright and fun and light. And he loves this pair of 993s

because he custom-designed them (the colors as well as the embroidered LOVE LIFE) and because they were Made in the USA. They are a bit heavier than his rainbow shoes but also more cushioned, and he definitely prefers them for longer runs.

My shoe saga started over a year ago. Last spring, probably because my shoes were old, I was experiencing some arch pain. I went to a running store and got fitted for a majorly supportive shoe, even though in the past I had always worn neutral shoes. Still, I trusted the expertise of the store and ran in my new shoes (which did feel good in my arch) for a few months, as I proceeded to get terrible shin splints, calf issues, and eventually stress reactions in both tibias (worse than a shin splint, not as bad as an outright stress fracture). I had to stop running for months. Granted, this was probably not completely the fault of the shoes--I was also a heel-striker, which puts a lot of stress on the lower leg; a clomper (you could hear me coming a mile away); and heavier than I had been in the past.

So to try and ensure that I never had to deal with these injuries again, I decided:

1) drop some weight (working on that one, the running helps!)

2) go back to a neutral shoe

3) change my running form to avoid jarring the lower legs

I did some research on “injury-free running” and hit upon a few sites—Chi running, Pose, Natural Form, Good Form—that all touted the same mechanics, with some slight variations. First, try for a high cadence of 180 steps per minute; doing this will automatically shorten your stride. Pretend you are running across hot coals or broken glass---this cures you of a heavy landing. Second, think about landing your feet under your center of gravity, not out in front of you. Third, aim for a mid-foot (or fore-foot) strike rather than a heel-strike, but still be sure to let the heel kiss the ground---no mincing about on tippy toes or you will kill your calves!

So I got back into a pair of traditional neutral New Balance 1080s and set about learning this new form, hopeful that I would be able to run again without major problems. Things felt pretty good (though admittedly reaching such a high cadence is difficult and keeping it there even more so) but one thing still bothered me. The higher heel on the shoe made it hard for me to consistently avoid a heel strike. That’s when I started looking into minimal shoes.

The term “minimal” can refer to a variety of shoe characteristics. It can be how close the foot is to the ground, as in Vibram Five Fingers (essentially a rubber glove for the foot). It can be the weight of the shoe (the lightest ones weigh only 5-6 oz.). Lack of any built in supports can also be a factor, as well as how “naturally” the foot sits in the shoe (heel-to-toe drop). A traditional running shoe may have a drop of 12 mm or more, while a minimal shoe is usually somewhere in the 0-4 mm range. It’s important to transition slowly to these shoes, as your feet have to adjust to feeling the ground more, and working harder as the shoe does less; calves and Achilles tendons also need a break-in period because a lower heel on the shoe means the calf has to stretch further for the heel to touch the ground.

The first shoe I tried was a Newton Gravity. These 4mm drop shoes are beautifully bright and light on top and quite odd on the sole.

They have these orange “lugs” that are supposed to encourage a forefoot landing and give you an energy return to boot. I have to say my race results in these shoes were faster than any I’ve previously recorded, even 10 years ago. However, those awesome lugs also turned out to be the downfall of the shoe, at least in my case. My left foot loved the shoe, and had not a single complaint. My right foot--- a full ½” smaller—found the sweet spot elusive. That ½” made all the difference in lug placement and put them too close to my toes rather on the ball of my foot. I tried different lacings and even a heel insert but nothing worked for long. I believe the only solution for me is to buy another pair in a smaller size and wear two different size shoes, but that’s just not going to happen. I have to say that Newton customer service was excellent in trying to find a solution for me, even to the point of offering to send me a smaller right shoe if one turns up, but until that happens, these shoes are benched.

Upon realizing the Newtons were not going to work out, I did more research and hit upon the Brooks Pure Project line. I chose the 4mm Pure Flow—this shoe is so comfy!

It is also extremely neutral, and has almost no external support at all. I enjoy running in them, but after 3 miles or so I have sore feet and twingy Achilles. This is probably due to the fact that I am using muscles and tendons, etc that I have not had to use in years of previous running/walking in built-up shoes. Still, as my goal is to avoid injury and finish this marathon, I have come to the conclusion that these, too, are not right for my long-distance training. I do, however, love them for walking and for shorter runs. Given time to slowly build up miles and adjust properly, I believe these could be used for longer distances quite enjoyably. I just can’t afford to test that theory right now.

At this point it was apparent I needed a shoe with a few more “traditional” characteristics, yet I still wanted to avoid the high heel and bulky, heavy feeling of my old shoes. After all, though I had some problems with the more minimal shoes, I did gain a lot from them—my form is improved; I have not had a single serious shin or calf issue; my calves and Achilles are elongated and flexible; my feet are stronger. Tired of research and somewhat embarrassed by needing to look for yet another shoe, I went back to where I started—New Balance. After all, I did run my other marathon in a pair, and I have usually had good luck with them. As it turns out, they had recently redesigned my old 1080, with a few important differences. The 1080v2 weighs less than its predecessor due to the use of high-tech lightweight materials for support and cushioning, and the heel-to-toe drop is now 8mm rather than 12mm—I know this doesn’t seem like enough to make a difference, but it is. The heel stack height on the new version is also lower.

I immediately ordered these shoes and they are wonderful! I barely feel them when they are on, they don’t interfere with my new running form, my tendons don't twinge, and my feet don’t ache when I take them off. I ran 5 miles in them over the weekend and felt great! So hopefully I am DONE thinking about shoes for a while, and I can move on to thinking more about fundraising for Fisher House…

Our weekly stats:

Tue  5/22    2.07 miles in 19:59

Wed  5/23   3.05 miles in 30:48

Thu  5/24    2.08 miles in 20:33

Sat  5/26     5 miles in 58:00  (this was a 5 mile race, very hilly and it was quite hot; glad I brought my vest as I sipped water throughout. I confess we walked the two biggest hills as the heat was making my head throb and I started to get goosebumps and feel a bit nauseous....still was able to run it in at the end! Chris did great as usual and probably could have come in under 50 minutes if he hadn't stayed with me.)
Photobombed after the race!

Total: 12.2 miles

Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Week 7: Running gear

This week I'd like to talk a bit about gear. Running is supposed to be a cheap sport; after all, you really just need a pair of sneakers and you can begin. Heck, these days with the barefoot running craze, you don't even need shoes! It turns out, though, that there is plenty of stuff out there geared to runners, from clothes to shoes to hydration systems to phone apps...and I admit to having bought into some of the hype. Luckily most of what we've tried has been a benefit to our training and we've even discovered some new US companies to support as well.

Clothing: Ditch the cotton! Chris will still wear cotton socks, but I prefer socks and clothes with wicking properties so things don't get too soggy and heavy. Swiftwick makes their socks in the USA, and they also have a bit of compression built in to them which feels good on your tootsies. I also have a nice pair from SmartWool that are great. I like to wear unpadded bike shorts for running to cut down on chafing; Chris found some cool American-made retro-style running shorts from Soark.

Compression: This is just for me, as I was dealing with a good deal of calf soreness and trying to head off shin splints at the beginning of training. There is a school of thought that believes wearing compression garments can speed and promote muscle healing; some just wear such garments after running, some wear them while exercising. I have only worn them after, and in MY experience, they help. I have a pair of tall compression socks from Swiftwick, and also a lovely pair of lavender calf compression sleeves from Zensah (also US made). I was wearing them quite a bit, but lately haven't needed them as much, though I suspect that may change as we cover more distance in our long runs!

App: I use Runkeeper. It doesn't always pick up the GPS correctly but I don't think anything is 100% accurate anyway. If the GPS doesn't work, you can always plot your route afterwards. I know I could just wear a watch, but I like having my phone for emergencies. If you are looking for routes of a certain length in your area, can also be helpful.

Hydration: We are training through the summer. I hate heat, and especially running in the heat. I get very flushed and my face turns purple and I need my water. So for Mother's Day I asked for this:

                                                                 Nathan Intensity Vest

It has pocketses for phones and ID and gels and wallets, plus it holds 2 liters of water. It is made for a woman's build (I think that means the clasps don't interfere with the chest area), very light, and stays put. I also want to add that I had a problem with the bladder that originally came with the vest--I could not remove the drinking hose from the bladder for cleaning purposes--but upon contacting the company with my issue, they promptly sent me a new bladder with a simpler hose detachment free of charge. I just love me some great customer service! Chris has a Camelback he likes, so between the two of us we should have enough water for those 20 milers to come.

I will have to save shoes for another post, as I have a lot to say on running form and different types of shoes (sad to say, much of it from personal experience). On to the weekly stats:

Tue 5/15   2.12 miles in 20:08  (rainy)

Wed 5/16   3.11 in 31:04 (incredibly windy and humid--there was a terrible thunderstorm to the north of us--we got the clouds and wind but no rain and I almost lost my hat on the bridge!)

Thu 5/17   2:06 in 20:46  (on trails)

Sat  5/19  3.12 in 30:15 (this was a fun race called the Anyway 5K--you could run, walk, bike, scooter, skate, or be pushed in a stroller--just nothing motorized. R finished 1st on his bike in 27 minutes flat, followed by runner B at 28:20 and runner G at 28:55. It was a gorgeous day, but warm and the course was quite hilly!)

Total: 10.41 miles

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Week 6: Ice, Ice, Baby!

I'd like to tell you how much I love ice. I love heat, too, but most times when you feel sore after running, ice is where it's at. This week I went through a lot of ice, all for random aches and pains that never really amounted to much. Was this because I iced them at first twinge, or because they were really no big deal in the first place? Who knows, but I'm not taking any chances!

I am terrified of injury putting an end to our quest, and I am taking many measures to prevent that outcome (Chris still has his occasional knee issues, but otherwise he seems to be a machine). Here are a few of the tools in my arsenal:

--reusable gel cold packs that live in the freezer

--reusable heat pack filled with clay that goes in the microwave

--a large foam roller for muscle massage (when muscles are very sore or tight, sometimes it can feel better to roll them out than take the chance of a pull or strain from over-stretching)

--the Stick, for more detailed massage and working on knots

--a tennis ball, for more targeted massage of calves, hips, and feet

--a golf ball, for rolling under the arches of my feet

I use one or more of these items after every run, and sometimes before as well. I may be over-reacting a tad, but better safe than sorry...we have a long way to go in our training and I am determined we will make our goals of raising $1000 for Fisher House and crossing that finish line at 26.2 miles!

Our weekly stats:

Tue 5/8      2.07 miles in 20:12

Wed 5/9     3 miles in 29:50

Thu 5/10     2.2 miles in 20:07

Sat 5/12      4.51 miles in 49:11 (our longest run yet and we purposely slowed ourselves down--based on how we felt the rest of Saturday as well as Sunday, this was a smart strategy--we both felt great, no problems! And more evidence Chris is a machine--he ran this on NO SLEEP, he was up all night operating.)

Sun 5/13     1.7 miles in 30 minutes, a nice walk with the whole family

Total (running):  11.78 miles

Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Week 5: Music, Massage, and a Few More Miles

This week we celebrated a birthday, attended a concert and a fair, and had a fun family visit. We also managed to get some miles in, including a 5k race. So all in all, an awesome week!

Our youngest son R had his birthday on Cinco de Mayo, and both sets of grandparents decided to come into town to help him celebrate. Saturday also happened to be the day our town shut down Mill Street for a local craft fair, and we all had fun checking out booths filled with everything from cupcakes to quilts to jewelry. After the fair we had a great dinner, and then headed off to our oldest son B's spring concert. Nana's lemon cake was a delicious and fitting end to the day!

I also want to mention the deep tissue massage I had on Friday. This is the second massage I have had since our training started, and I am planning to keep up with the habit every 4-6 weeks (or as needed). My massage therapist is really able to work out all of the knots and sore spots, and believe me, I have plenty of them! I am hoping the regular massages will help with injury prevention; I also hope Chris can join me for one of these soon.

Sunday morning we participated in the March of Dimes Run for Babies 5K and had one of our fastest times yet! Though we are certainly not training for speed, it is still special to achieve a personal record.

Our weekly stats:

Tue  5/1   2.01 miles in 19:14  (on trails with a new running group Chris found)

Wed  5/2  3.04 miles in 31:11

Thu  5/3  2.16 miles in 20:32

Sat  5/5  45 minutes of walking

Sun 5/6  3.12 miles in 27:17  (this was a very hilly course, and I still doubt this time, but that is what we were told)

Total mileage:  10.33 miles

Thanks for reading!