Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Shoe Struggle

          Which shoes should I pick..? There, I said it... BAM! Discussion potentially leading to argument... "MAXIMALIST!" "NO, MINIMALIST!" "SUPINATION!" "PRONATION!" "OTHER RANDOM AND ARBITRARY TERMS!!!"

          There is so much nonsense in the shoe community now-a-days, it's not even funny. How do you pick out your shoes? Is it feel? Stability level? Simply whatever is the "hip and new" minimalist or maximalist shoe? Whatever you're running idol is wearing at this time? Or a certain brand-name? Whatever it is, I am not judging, but I encourage you to use a rational thought process when deciding.

          There are so many things to take into consideration when deciding what shoe to wear for the next 200-500+ miles. Shoe structure is very complex and usually requires a bio-mechanics knowledge base to understand to the fullest. When looking at shoe structure it is important to consider: weight, stack height, heel-toe-differential or "heel-drop", the upper, the sole/tread, arch support, seams vs. seamless, flexibility, amount of cushioning, type of cushioning, toe-box width, narrow vs. wide, ankle support, and other materials. I'm probably missing some, but you get the point, it's complicated.

           I honestly believe that you need to try a substantial amount of shoes to figure out what works for you, but many people believe one-type of shoe is the "go-to shoe" and "ultimate-fix" for any ailment you may be suffering from. This concept is flawed due to the uniqueness of running gait and specific physiological characteristics we all possess. If you walked into a running store, they would insist they analyze your gait. I can tell you right now, that these [mostly] high-school and college students don't know what they're looking for or talking about. I have a bachelor's degree in Exercise Physiology (Kinesiology/Biomechanics involved) and a Doctoral degree in Physical Therapy and I can tell you that it is not that simple. It takes specific and proper training backed by a profound knowledge base of anatomy/physiology, and kinesiology, not to mention a substantial time in a clinic practicing in order to properly evaluate gait. That's just talking about walking; running gait is faster and usually requires video-analysis in order to properly catch each "gait-deviation", followed-up by investigation to find the cause with a research-backed treatment approach to fix it. With that in mind, I hope to educate whoever reads this article on basic components that they should be aware of when picking their running shoes.

Heel-Toe Offset A.K.A. "drop" or "differential"

          Many of us know that a lower heel-drop is usually associated with a more minimal shoe, and conversely. But why? Yes, running barefoot is equivalent to running with "zero-drop", but what does it mean? As you can see in the above picture, if you take the stack-height of the heel and forefoot parts of the shoe and subtract them, you get the "heel-drop". So obviously, with a higher heel-drop your foot will be slightly pointing down while standing still. This concept is important because it directly relates to the position of your Achilles Tendon. With a higher "drop" shoe, your Achilles Tendon will be in a shortened position. This relates to the flexibility of your Achilles Tendon. I will use a short example of why this is important.

         Tony Krupicka (if you don't know who he is, go look him up ASAP) was leading the Ultra-Tour du Mont Blanc in 2013 more than half-way through [arguably] the world's most competitive/hardest mountain ultramarathon, Tony had to DNF the race due to Achilles Tendon issues. Before Tony DNF'd, he changed his shoes. Why? Tony is known for being a "front-man" in the minimalist world, but this day he switched to shoes with a higher heel-drop. He did this to off-set stress on his Achilles Tendon. He was able to hobble a couple more miles before DNFing. So basically, if you have touchy Achilles, stay away from zero-drop shoes.

          "Drop" also affects the way we strike our foot onto the ground. The higher the heel-drop the more apt we are to heel-strike. Heel-strike is a whole other controversial topic that I'm not going to get into right now, but basically, you don't want to force a heel-strike because it is inefficient. So when looking at heel-drop for new shoes, take into consideration the effect on the Achilles Tendon and the effect on foot-strike.

Sup, pro?

          Another thing that comes up when looking into shoes is pronation. Pronation refers to the motion of the forefoot rolling inward during gait. Too many people out there give pronation a bad connotation. Pronation is normal and REQUIRED for normal gait. Pronation and supination have specific functions in order to produce healthy gait. When the foot strikes the ground, the foot pronates making the foot more pliable, allowing for force-absorption. As the body rolls over the foot and prepares for take-off, the foot then rolls into supination, making the foot a rigid lever for force production.

          What people mean to say is "overpronation is bad". Overpronation may be more of a concern but is still over-hyped. "Most studies have found no relationship between injury and amount of pronation, and those that have found a relationship reported that the link was weak." There is always someone who swears by something, and there happen to be a lot of people who take "pronation-control" seruously. But there is simply not enough powerful evidence in research to suggest we should. Try some shoes, see what works for you, but start with something neutral.

Arch You Going to use Inserts?

          Shoes already come with inserts, so why are we adding another $50+ purchase onto our already $100-$150 shoe purchase? Arch supports can be a touchy subject. Unlike overpronation, flat arches are more visible and easily detected. If you can't tell by just looking, a simple "wet-test" can help you determine the height of your arches. Structurally, the arch of the foot (the medial-longitudinal arch) performs a vital role in shock-absorption during walking, running, and jumping. If your arch is too high or too low, it can be offsetting forces to other structures of the foot, potentially leading to injury. A faulty arch can also cause improper foot motions during gait that can become destructive.

          More people have flat arches than arches that are too high. So, how do we fix this? Stick something underneath the flat and weakened arch to support it, right!? Maybe not. Sticking supports under your arches can make your arch weaker in the long run (no pun intended). A faulty arch needs to be stressed in appropriate doses so that it can adapt and strengthen. The posterior tibialis muscle functions as our "natural arch support". Runners should attempt to strengthen this muscle before going straight to inserts and possibly making the situation worse. Once again, there are people who swear that inserts have worked for them, but we are all different. If you are looking for longevity in this sport, I would not rush to a "quick-fix".

Quit Cushion my Buttons
          With the emergence and popularity of Hoka One One, other companies have been erratically trying to replicate the concept. Didn't we just have a minimalist obsession yesterday? Christopher McDougal is sitting around thinking "Darn it! I was THIS CLOSE to ruling the WORLD!". I thought barefoot was the end-all fix for everything!? Guess not. People are claiming the same effects from using maximum cushion shoes, just as the barefooters do.

          Lets explain the purpose of maximum cushion. Simply comfort, and force absorption. The more soft material underfoot, the more forces will be dissipated before they reach your body. Sound awesome? Well, there are some draw-backs and they aren't minor. First off, more material means added weight. More weight means more effort required to move your feet. These companies have tried to make up for this by adding "rocker-bottom technology" (making it easier to translate the foot forward) and simply using very light material such as EVA Foam. 

          There are still other concerns to consider with maximally cushioned shoes. What about ankle rolls? With a higher "stack-height" from maximal cushioning, people become weary of rolling their ankles. This is definitely something to watch out for, but maximalist companies attempt to decrease ankle rolling risk by increasing the ground-contact area of the shoe. With a larger base of support, it is harder to tip over. Another concern is that runners are more encouraged to aggressively heel-strike since there is all that fluff underneath. Like I mentioned earlier, aggressive heel-striking usually occurs far in front of the body, outside of your base of support. The ground-reaction forces will be aiming in the opposite direction you are heading, leading to an inefficient "braking-force" that will inevitably slow you down. 
Going off-tangent quick-tip: shortening your stride (increasing your cadence) will help you strike your foot underneath your body. 

Wrapping it Up

          Now you have the knowledge to enter a running store and decide for yourself which shoe to try next. And that's the important part, to try, a lot of shoes, until you find what works for you. Not to forget other factors that also come into play when picking shoes like aesthetics, price, durability, and quality. Lastly, if you find a shoe that works for you, keep buying it, your search is over, don't torture yourself.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Run for your Life: Run for Longevity and Quality of Life

*Disclaimer: I am a physical therapist, not a physician or dietician; therefore please do not change your diet or exercise habits without approval from a qualified professional.*

The reasons why people run are countless. It ranges from trying to burn off last night’s dinner, to more profound reasons as mentioned in my first post ‘Why Suffer?’. One of the best reasons is for health. No matter what anyone tells you, running is in no way, shape, or form bad for you (in any normal circumstances). The most common rebuttal I hear is that running causes you to develop osteoarthritis in your knees and hips. Go ahead and do a quick Google search, you’ find mostly articles like these:
Running Might Protect Against Knee Osteoarthritis
Marathon Training Doesn’t Hurt Knees, Even In Beginners
Why Don’t More Runners Get Knee Arthritis?
Running Linked to Lower Arthritis Rates
The Persistent Myth of Running and Arthritis

             You get the point. Another argument I hear a lot is that excessive running can cause cardiac disease. At first I think, “why would someone even publicize something like that?” Let’s just deter people from taking action towards a healthier lifestyle and tell them “don’t go for a run, it might give you heart disease”. Nonsense. I have read articles from sources as big as Runner’s World that tell their readers that they’re wrong if they think sedentary and overweight individuals have a higher risk of clogged arteries than marathoners despite a poorly designed study and inconsistency across the literature. Long story short, running is good for your heart, not bad. Aerobic activity (like running) can help to decrease blood lipids that are responsible for the plaque in your arteries that causes heart disease.

With the huge growth in running's popularity, it seems likely that we will hear more stories about runners dying on the run.
                                                                            -Runner's World Magazine.

                Some believe that Phedippides suffered from exercise-induced cardiomyopathy, but this cannot be proven. With logic, we can deduce that this was likely not the case. The legends proclaim that Phedippides died of sudden cardiac death immediately after running 26.2 miles from the battle field of Marathon to the people of Athens to announce their victory over the Persians. Before this point Phedippides had run 153 miles to ask for aide from Sparta, only to be denied. Phedippides had to quickly return to the Athenians to warn them that they would be on their own; another arduous journey by foot. Soon after Phedippides’ return, the Athenians rallied and fought off the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. Phedippides, as the great athlete he was, ran one last time to deliver the news to Athens.

Phedippides had run approximately 280 miles in what historians believe to be about 10 days. That equates to more than a marathon per day. Now, do you think that it is implausible that Phedippides could have died from dehydration, heat-exhaustion, or wounds? Yup, it was sudden cardiac death… right? No, not likely.

                Enough about dead Greeks, what if I told you, runners live longer lives. Common sense right? I didn’t have to tell you, well surprisingly some people went ahead and did a study on it anyway. The thing is, they found out that you only need to run 5-10 minutes a day to add 3 years (on average) to your life! Most of you reading this probably run way more than 5-10 minutes a day, so good for you, maybe if we keep running we’ll be able to achieve immortality. Running is the fountain of youth, if there ever was one.
                Running makes us happy. No really, not just because we like to do it, there are massive psychological benefits. A “runner’s high” is a real thing, and it’s actually just as effective as depression and anxiety medication, just without the debilitating side effects. The only side effects to running are the other health benefits mentioned in this post, and maybe some muscle soreness which is basically you getting stronger and faster.

                Bone grows when it is stressed. This is greatly beneficial for anyone who doesn’t want to break bones. The amount of bone density that you acquire before your mid-twenties will determine approximately at what age your bone mineral density will decrease to critical levels. Let me explain, after about 40 years old, your bone density starts to decrease. If you have built up your bone density (with running per say) then you will have more to work with over time. Don’t worry for those of you that started running post-twenties. Bone density loss can be attenuated with running; therefore you are delaying that point in time where your density reaches critical levels. Why is this important? Because simple fractures commonly and easily lead to death in older adults. So keep on pounding those feet of yours (not too hard though).  On that note, I might as well mention that runners beat out cyclists in this category, with cyclists being ~7 times more likely to develop critical levels of bone density. Woo hoo! Go runners!

                I may expand on this topic in the future, but I don’t want to make this post too long or boring. I don’t want people to “believe” that running is good for them, I want them to “know” it. When entertaining claims that running is bad from one approach or another, please use discretion and call them out on their sources. Use the above knowledge and information to counter any appropriate argument, and remember to be respectful. If your motivation to run does not already relate to its health benefits, may you now be endowed with some information to allow it to become a catalyst for your running.

Exercise is the key to not only physical health, but to peace of mind.
-Nelson Mandela

Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Trail Running Bucket List

More Colorado Fourteeners

Maroon Bells 4 Pass Loop
A loop around the stunningly beautiful Maroon Bells climbs four 12,000ft passes and traverses some of the most amazing scenery in the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness. 26.4 miles with about 8,000ft of vertical ascent.

Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim
Starting from the South Rim to the North Rim and back to the South Rim in a single day, covering 42 miles and 10,500ft of vertical ascent.

Glacier Gorge Traverse - Rocky Mountain National Park
Running the rim of the Glacier Gorge Basin consists of bagging 11 peaks ranging from 11,500ft to 14,250ft. It covers 20 technical and grueling miles with 12,000ft of vertical ascent.


Leadville 100M

Hardrock 100M

Transvulcania 73k

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why Suffer?

           Tired, dehydrated, nauseous, feet hurt, legs hurt, fall down, get back up, bleeding, blurry vision. These are the things we feel as mountain-ultra runners shortly after every time we tie our laces and slip out onto those serene trails. What drives us to suffer at that intensity, go home, recover, and then crave it again the next morning? The outsiders (non-runners) look at us and don’t understand why we put ourselves through it. They pity us, when in reality, they are the ones to pity.
Immeasurable reward is the bounty of those who run in the alluring wilderness. The question is, where does the motivation come from to do such a thing? There is this unstoppable force within us all that gets us up and ready to suffer in the morning, but where does it come from? What feeds it? The pros we follow on Strava? Our friends and family? Certainly not the blood, snot, and vomit we leave on the trail, but then again, maybe it does…

             We all have something that feeds our desire to run the mountains. I have several, some of  that which I will talk about in order of increasing influence:

Professional Runners
             Most of us have read Born to Run, Eat and Run, Ultramarathon Man, etc. They are all amazing stories about runners doing seemingly impossible things. I crave that. I want to be able to do what most others cannot. Scott Jurek was first brought to my attention while reading Born to Run and then his book Eat and Run. He had such a desire to win and enjoyed every minute of it. He was a physical therapist and vegetarian, just like me. I felt like I could relate and it made me want to run. He was my first true professional running role model.
            Michael Arnstein A.K.A “The Fruitarian” has inspired so many people to living a healthy lifestyle by running, and eating well. He has a well developed YouTube channel that I have spent hours on watching his racing videos of Western States 100, Leadville 100, The Spartathalon, Badwater 135, as well as a number of nutrition related videos about his obsession with a fruit-based diet. While watching one of his videos, Arnstein talks about why he is trying to share his lifestyle with others:
            It’s not always easy, but I really do love how I’m living. It’s a great change from how I used to live. I don’t want to be selfish, I want other people to give it a shot. So that’s what I’m doing. Not selling anything, no special agendas, this is just me letting people know, how to live an ultra-life.
             My favorite rant of Arnstein’s is from his video of him running the HURT 100. He is suffering and expresses why he puts himself through this over and over again. What he says truly delineates the reason why I run, and it is quite a powerful rant:

             Everything in our life, in modern society has been done for us. You need some clothes, food, shelter, healthcare, transportation, books, computers…everything we might want, is virtually given to us with very little effort on our part, relatively speaking. And a lot of these things, that we obtain, that we want, aren’t really fully earned in a sense where there’s true accomplishment, where you feel like you’re the master of your own universe, where you’ve created something in your life that you can call your own, that you can be proud of, inception to completion. And it’s a shame, because inevitably people are pretty lost and unfulfilled with their lives. They get the new phone, or the new car; these things don’t bring real satisfaction at a deep, primal level. And for me, ultra-running, is a lot about doing something that inherently we were created through eons of evolution to do, is travel long distances on our own power, using our senses, from our sight, smell, and everything in-between. When you get out in nature, you strip everything down to your bare components of what you are as a creature in this world; ultra-running, especially out in the great outdoors, brings more fulfillment than anything could ever bring.
            Professional runners certainly bring me motivation by bringing to light what fuels them. We all strive to be like them and likelihood is that we never will, but we try anyway. Scott Jurek, Sage Canaday, Michael Arnstein, Ian Sharman, Anton Krupicka, etc; these are all professional runners that inspire me, that create an image, make a following, and share their experiences with others. I truly believe that they do it for the sport, for the participants of the sport, and not for personal gain (mostly).

My Father
             The real reason why I started running is because of my dad. By watching him, he taught me how to truly love running. He was never the fastest, actually quite slow (5-6 hour marathons), but he loved the sport so much. He found so much enjoyment from simply running, but unfortunately I was not able to share this passion with him.
            My dad was a healthy eater, avid runner and biker, and lived an extremely healthy lifestyle, but one day he collapsed after biking to work, and died painlessly and instantly at 51 years old. A few months later, a friend of my father’s contacted me and asked if I wanted to run a half-marathon with her in memory of my father. I instantaneously agreed, almost forgetting that the only running I’ve ever done was a few non-competitive 5ks and 10ks, and as a training tool for wrestling. The race was 4 weeks away and I was not prepared. I ran 3 times per week for those 4 weeks and finished the half-marathon in 1 hour 36 minutes. I realized I wasn’t so bad at this, but it sure was painful.
            Whenever I run, I think about how awesome it would be to be able to tell my dad what I’m doing and where I’m running, to be able to run with him. I think about how happy it would make him, and how proud. The sadness and anger that comes with the realization that I can’t share my passion for running with him drives me to run farther, faster, harder. The anger and sadness is transient, it turns into fuel for running, then brings joy. Running is such a rewarding experience that was brought to light by my father and I will always be thankful for this wonderful gift he gave me, the gift of desire and passion for suffering within nature.

                                             The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called 
                                             resignation is confirmed desperation.
                                                                          -Henry David Thoreau
(On the left) AJ Cohen, Harvard Pilgrim Half Marathon, May 8th, 2010.
(On the right) Eric Cohen, Hamptons Marathon, Fall 2008.