Friday, January 29, 2010

Even More on Running Shoes

I always enjoy reading the blog written by Ross Tucker, PhD of Cape Town University and Jonathan Dugas, PhD of the University of Illinois in Chicago. They have a level-headed approach to training that I admire and they seem to be open to new ideas. Many in sport science (as in any science, I suppose) are deathly afraid of change because it means rethinking the area of suggested change and its overlapping areas. Acceptance of new ways also suggests that nothing is above re-examining and possibly changing. Change is scary.

But being open-minded to the possibility of change does not mean that every new idea that comes down the pike should be accepted at face value. That would lead to chaos in science as in any area of endeavor. New ways of seeing the world of training for endurance sport should be viewed with some degree of skepticism while taking a hard look at the concept from both a scientific and a real-world perspective. Tucker and Dugas seem to balance this very nicely.

I bring this up because they have just posted to their blog a piece on minimalist running shoes, barefoot running and normally shod running. It examines the science behind the website I mentioned a couple of days ago on this topic. If you're considering running in a less supportive shoe or even no shoe at all be sure to read the Tucker-Dugas post before making the switch.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

More on Running Shoes

Here's an interesting view on running shoes and footsrike from a professor at Harvard University and colleagues (thanks for the heads up, Chad). The lead author, Daniel E. Lieberman, PhD, studies human bipedal movement from a paleolithic perspective. You may well find this interesting based on the comments that followed my previous posts on running shoes here and here. It seems there are some pretty strong opinions and even feelings on this topic among runners.

I should point out that the research leading to the website cited above was funded, in part, by Vibram FiveFingers, the makers of a minimalist foot cover (I hesitate to call it a 'shoe') for runners. While I always feel a bit of skepticism when I see that a study was funded by a business that may well benefit financially from the results, it doesn't necessarily mean that the conclusions are biased. You can read it yourself and draw your own conclusions.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

More on Running Faster

As mentioned in a previous post on running faster, I have the triathletes I coach do some form of the basic strides drill year round. As with swimming, it seems you can never devote too much time to improving your run technique. I once coached a pro triathlete who was an All-American runner in college and considered one of the fastest runners in triathlon. I still had him work on technique year round. You should too.

The downhill strides workout described in the
original running faster post is very simple. All you do is run fast for 20 seconds several times on a soft surface such as a grassy park that has a very slight decline (such as 1%). If you do not have a history of calf, Achilles or plantar fascia injuries then I'd have you substitute “uphill strides” for the downhill strides workout after a few weeks.

This session will help you develop more running force. As explained earlier, there are only two things you can do to run faster - increase your stride length or increase your cadence. What you would really like to do is both. In that previous post I described how to improve your cadence. Let's now look at how to improve stride length which is just another way of saying improve force.

Developing greater running force will make your stride longer without even trying. Combine that with the higher cadence you have been working on with downhill strides and your running is sure to improve. But it won’t happen overnight. Your aerobic system must also improve to allow you to maintain the combined higher cadence and longer stride. And the nervous system must also adapt to the changes. All of this will take some time as the aerobic and nervous systems change slowly. By the start of the Build period in a few weeks, if you’ve been diligent about both speed skills and force training, you will be running faster at the same effort as when you started Base training. You must be patient and persistent to realize the improvement. In the mean time, don't try to artificially increase your stride length while running. Let it happen naturally.

Uphill strides workouts for force are done on either a short, very steep hill or on something like the stairs you find in a football stadium or basketball arena. If you have had some Achilles, calf or plantar fascia injuries then you are better off using the stairs - if you do this workout at all. The ankle flexion is significant when running up a steep hill and puts a tremendous load on those soft tissues. For this reason I prefer stairs for this workout for most runners but they are harder to find than hills.

The uphill strides workout is simple. Warm-up well and then do three sets of three intervals up the hill or stairs. Run as hard as you can on each interval – but not so hard that your technique breaks down. If running stairs you may need to take two or even three steps with each stride depending on the width and rise of the stairs. Count 12, right-foot strikes stopping on the twelfth. Turn around and walk back down the hill or stairs. Do not run down. Jog easily for five minutes after each set.

This is a very risky workout. Be cautious with its progression. Do this no more than twice a week with at least 96 hours between them. Once a week is better for most athletes. Start with one set and add another each week for three weeks. If you have “glass legs” you would be wise not to do it at all. In that case just continue doing the downhill strides for speed skill. Not all of the athletes I coach do the uphill strides workout. I’m very conservative when it comes to risky running workouts. You must avoid injury.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Indoor Intervals

Someone asked me today what intervals could be done on an indoor trainer or treadmill to alleviate some of the boredom. Of course, what you do in training is more closely tied to your periodization, i.e., time until your first A-priority race of the season, than to your level of boredom. For example, some athletes, I know, are doing the Valley of the Sun bike stage race next month in Phoenix. If that’s an A race for you then higher intensity efforts are appropriate. But if your A race isn’t for a few months then lower intensity efforts are appropriate. Assuming you know what you should be working on in training right now, here are some workouts that may be done indoors – or outdoors for that matter, also. (If unsure of what you should be doing consult my Training Bible books – Chapter 6.)

Before each of the sessions described below warm-up by gradually increasing the intensity. The more intense the intervals, the longer the warm-up. Cool down after each interval session.

The intensity of these intervals is based on the following. Pick the one that suits you best…

• Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) on a 1 (low) to 10 (high) scale
• Heart Rate (HR) using the system found in my Training Bible books and Total Heart Rate Training book.
• Power zones are from Coggan’s system (Training and Racing With a Power Meter)
• Pace zones for running are found in my Triathlete’s Training Bible book

Note that the number of intervals and the duration of the intervals is not carved in stone. These may be changed either way to accommodate an athlete who is highly experienced or a novice. They are a starting point for someone who is moderately fit for this time of year.

Aerobic endurance intervals
Purpose: Improve cardiovascular system
RPE: 4-5
HR Zone: 2
Power Zone: 2
Pace Zone: 2
Workout: 3 x 20 minutes with 5 minute easy recoveries
Comments: Keep cadence comfortably high

Tempo intervals
Purpose: Improve muscular endurance
RPE: 6
HR Zone: 3
Power Zone: 3
Pace Zone: 3
Workout: 3 x 10 minutes with 3 minute easy recoveries
Comments: Cadence slightly lower than normal or 2% uphill on a treadmill

Threshold intervals
Purpose: Improve ability to process and remove acid build up and lift lactate threshold as a percentage of aerobic capacity
RPE: 7
HR Zone: 4-5a
Power Zone: 4
Pace Zone: 4-5a
Workout: 3 x 6 minutes with 2 minute easy recoveries
Comments: Cadence at comfortable level. May be done on a ‘hill.’

Anaerobic endurance intervals
Purpose: Improve aerobic capacity
RPE: 8-9
HR Zone: 5b
Power Zone: 5-6
Pace Zone: 5b
Workout: 5 x3 minutes with 3 minute easy recoveries
Comments: Keep cadence comfortably high, focus on technique

Speed skills intervals
Purpose: Improve economy
RPE: 8-9
HR Zone: not applicable
Power Zone: not applicable
Pace Zone: not applicable
Workout: 6-8 x 20 seconds with 90 seconds of easy spin/walk recoveries between intervals
Comments: Focus is entirely on one single aspect of technique such as run foot strike or pedaling through 12 o’clock position. Movement is fast at high cadence.

Anaerobic capacity intervals
Purpose: Improve power
RPE: 10
HR Zone: not applicable
Power Zone: 7
Pace Zone: 5c
Workout: 3 sets of 3 x 12 revolutions (count right foot 12 times) with 3 minute easy recoveries between intervals and 6 minutes between sets
Comments: These are essentially sprints. Form must be perfect or injury is possible.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Running Shoes, Part 2

I've got a layover in Denver on the way to Salt Lake City today so have a bit of time to expand on my comments below on running shoes. There have been a couple of comments posted by readers and I received a few emails on the subject also. So far these have overwhelmingly favored minimalism in running shoes selection with a few preferring barefoot and a couple the Vibram Five Fingers product (I hesitate to call it a shoe).

When I owned the running store mentioned in the previous post I soon discovered there wasn't one shoe selection that would work best for all runners. But gradually I came to realize that runners are less likely to have injuries and to perform better if they use the least shoe possible for them. Note that 'for them' is quite a broad qualifier. A 115-pound woman with excellent running technique and years of training injury-free can generally get by quite nicely with the least shoe possible. Whereas a 220-pound runner with flat feet and awful run technique who is in his first year of serious running will need something far more supportive on his feet.

I wish it was so easy as to say that we should all just run barefoot. Had we grown up like Kenyan kids - barefoot and running to school every day - we wouldn't need heavy-duty shoes at all. Our feet and legs would be strong and our technique would be excellent. Unfortunately, that simply isn't the case. We grow up wearing shoes as soon as the parents can dress the baby. I'm afraid the feet of most of us are not well-conditioned. But we can do something about that.

I think it might help if you got out of your shoes during the day whenever you can. I'm not talking about running shoes here, but rather your 'street' shoes. Taking them off around the house is a minimal but first step in strengthening your feet. Athletes who do this can progress to doing what I call 'barefoot strides' a couple of times a week. I start them off with doing 5-6 x 20 second sprints on a clean, grassy surface (with walk-back recoveries). If not ready for barefoot running try using a lightweight racing flat, Nike Frees, beach water shoes or Vibrams. The idea is to gradually do more walking and running with little or no footwear.

I doubt if you will ever want to do all of your training and racing barefoot, although some do. The real advantage to doing this is not necessarily to run with a minimal shoe but to strengthen your body so injury is less likely. If that eventually involves wearing a minimalist shoe that's okay. I don't happen to see that so much as a goal as a means to training injury-free and eventually racing faster.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Running Shoes, Part 1

January has so far proven to be a very busy month and is only going to get busier due to upcoming travel. Hence the gap in posts here which is probably going to continue. But with a small break in the activities today I found an opportunity to post on something a few people have asked me about recently – running shoes. Specifically, the questions have been on the advantages (or disadvantages) of wearing minimal shoes or none at all by running barefoot.

Let me provide a bit of background for this piece first by describing how I came to be a runner and the shoes I used back then. In Part 2 I will get into what I tell the runners and triathletes I coach now about their footwear.

I was a track and field athlete starting at age 12 in junior high school and then on through college. I ran the low and high hurdles in junior high, high school and freshman year of college. In my sophomore year (1964) U.S. collegiate track and field began the introduction of the intermediate hurdles. These were at a height half-way between the lows (which were eliminated) and the high hurdles. Hence the name 'intermediate.' The distance of the intermediate race was longer – 300 meters (330 yards back then in the U.S.). The lows were run over 200 meters (220 yards) and the highs at 110 meters (120 yards). The 300-meter race eventually became the internationally common 400 meters which is the distance now run in all college track and field.

Back then as a hurdler there was no difference between the shoes I trained in and those used by shot putters or milers. The shoe had a black canvas top with laces and a gum rubber sole. The sole was perhaps a centimeter thick from toe to heel. There was no built-in arch support. For competition we wore racing spikes that were leather uppers with a thin leather sole and five to seven replaceable spikes in the forefoot. The spikes were in the range of one to five centimeters long and were changed relative to the conditions of the track on a particular day. All of the tracks I ran on then were cinders over clay which made for a great running surface. But they were a hassle to maintain so were replaced by “all-weather” surfaces beginning in the 1970s.

I took a break from serious running after graduation from college in 1966 as the government needed me to help win the war in Vietnam. While there I jogged a couple of times a week around the airbase (Phan Rang – “Happy Valley by the Sea”) wearing “Chuckies” – white, canvas, high-top basketball shoes. They offered minimal cushioning and had no significant support for the arch.

After Vietnam I continued to jog occasionally but sporadically through the early ‘70s. By the middle of the decade I was still jogging but starting to get serious about running once again. By now I had morphed into a distance runner. I had a pair of Nike Cortez shoes with leather uppers and a wave-pattern, rubber outsole. They are still made to this day and look much the same as back then.

By 1979 I was running a lot, so much that I decided to leave teaching and open a running store. That was a pretty radical idea back then as there were only a handful of them in the country. In 1980 I bought a local running store – Foot of the Rockies in Fort Collins, Colorado. The sale was completed in the spring and I took possession in July. We carried the major and popular brands of the day – Nike, New Balance, Tiger (now ASICS) and Brooks. The only major brand we didn’t have was Adidas.

At the time I bought the store running shoe design had not progressed much beyond my Cortez. About the only big changes were the Nike Waffle sole and nylon uppers. In the early 1980s Brooks introduced the anti-pronation wedge in a shoe which proved to be popular. Soon other manufacturers were making changes in their shoes to control pronation. At my store we tended to shy away from “high-tech” shoes preferring instead to put runners in the older-style, more basic shoes. The Tiger “Montreal” was our best selling model. It was a thin-soled shoe with a nylon upper. I loved them, and probably still have a pair stashed away somewhere in the attic.

As the technology of running shoes became more complex the price of shoes escalated. Our average shoe sell then was about $35, about $10 below the industry average, and the most expensive was a New Balance shoe at $79. It came in widths which made people with wide feet very happy and they were willing to pay for the comfort.

In 1987 I sold the store to become a part-time coach (I had a day job as a fundraiser for a non-profit). By 1992 I was coaching full-time. During this time running shoes experienced continuing change as they became even more complex. I tried to keep up with the new shoe widgets but finally gave up by the late 1990s. Now when I go into a running store I’m amazed at how much stuff has been added to the shoe to “correct” a problem with the human foot and movements of running.

This may give you some idea as to the direction I’m going with my advice to athletes when it comes to running shoes. But I’ll leave you to ponder that until I get an opportunity to write again in a few days. Now I’m off now to Lehi, UT (Wednesday) and then Ballwin, MO (Saturday) for clinics at which I’m speaking. If you’re in either neighborhood I hope you can attend (see my most recent posts below for the details).


Monday, January 11, 2010

Louisville Clinic

Click here for the website for that February 27 clinic mentioned below in Louisville, Kentucky. If you are nearby I hope you can make it. This will be a big day with a lot of training and racing ideas being shared.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Clinics and Camps

I'll be speaking in the following places in the next few weeks. I hope one of these is near you and you can attend. If you do please introduce yourself. I enjoy meeting athletes who read my blog.

Jan 13 Lehi, UT (

Jan 16 Ballwin, MO (

Feb 13 USAT Seminar for triathlon coaches in Colorado Springs, CO

Feb 20 Freehold, NJ (

Feb 27 Louisville, KY (website TBA)

Mar 20-26 Triathlon Camp in Mallorca, Spain - 2 spots left (

If your club or group would like to schedule an all-day seminar as a fundraiser and to boost membership
request info. The following dates are open on my calendar right now:

Mar 13-14

Apr 10-11

Apr 17-18

Apr 24-25

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Base Period Nutrition

One of the common objectives of the Base period is to improve aerobic endurance. There are many physiological benefits your body realizes as your aerobic endurance improves, such as an increase in muscle capillaries, greater heart pumping capacity and more plentiful muscle enzymes for converting fat to energy. Related to this last benefit is your body’s greater preference for using fat for fuel while sparing glycogen as aerobic endurance improves. This is an important change because it means a greater reliance on a fuel source each of us has plenty of – fat. Regardless of how skinny you are you have enough body fat stored to fuel many days of continuous exercise. The problem is accessing it.

If you were to stop training for a few weeks your body would begin to lose its taste for fat. It would, instead, gradually shift toward a preference for using carbohydrate, a sugar compound stored in the body as glycogen and glucose, to fuel exercise. So that after this time off, as you started exercising again, most of the energy used in your workouts would come from glycogen and glucose. And your body would not be very good at accessing its fat for fuel. That’s a problem. It means that you will need to continually feed your body sugar from sports drinks, bars, gels and other sources during workouts since you don't have much stored away. There’s a limit as to how much sugar your gut can process during exercise. So you face the double-headed problem of not being able to take in enough sugar to fuel your engine while beginning to slow your pace despite what feels like a high effort. This is an early stage of “bonking.”

In the Base period, assuming it comes on the heels of having had a break from high volume training, it will take your body many weeks of long, aerobic endurance workouts to train it to once again preferentially use fat for fuel. It will have slowly shifted to a preference for sugar. And the more sugar you feed it, the more it will want. In a winter Base period, the holiday season, with all of its pastries and sweets, may have compounded this shift. You want – actually, you need – to speed up the fueling changes your body goes through as you begin to increase the duration of your workouts. What you eat now plays a role in this change.

The body uses for fuel whatever it is given the most of. If you eat a diet high in carbohydrate, which at some times in the year is necessary (more on that at another time), it will prefer to use sugar for fuel. If you feed it more fat while reducing carbohydrate it will learn to use fat for fuel. That’s a good thing since it augments your aerobic endurance training.

I know what you must be thinking now: Eating fat is bad for your health. That’s an idea which grew out of the 1950s and refuses to go away. Like many “old wives’ tales” there is an element of truth to it. Some types of fat are definitely bad for your health and should be avoided. The worst is hydrogenated fat, often referred to as “trans fat.” This is a fat that nutrition science gave us as a gift 60-some years ago to avoid what they saw as a problem – too much saturated fat in our diets in the form of butter and as an ingredient in many processed foods. As is often the case, the scientific solution was eventually discovered to be worse than the original problem. Trans fat proved to be a better way to cause heart disease than saturated fat. Avoid trans fat. The label of foods that contain it will list it in the ingredients as a “partially hydrogenated” oil. Keep these foods out of your body. You’ll find them in some breads and most snack foods. Read the labels before purchasing.

The “good” fats are found in such foods as walnuts, macadamia nuts, avocado, fish, shellfish, flaxseed oil, olive oil, canola oil and the meats of range-fed animals and wild game. In the Base period slightly increase your consumption of these foods while slightly decreasing your intake of sugar and starchy foods. In this latter category are foods such as bread, bagels, cereal, corn, rice and potatoes. These are best eaten immediately following long workouts to speed recovery. Don’t make the mistake I often come across with some athletes who become so focused on avoiding starch and sugar that they shy away from them following exhaustive workouts. That’s a big mistake. We want to slightly shift your diet toward fat and away from carbohydrate during the Base period. Do not entirely avoid these foods.

By the way, it’s alright to “cheat” on your diet. In fact, you should. Having a small dessert after a meal will not have negative consequences for performance and may do wonders for your peace of mind. My favorite is gourmet, double-chocolate cookies. On days that I workout I’ll have one or two of them for dessert after dinner. Having an occasional baked potato or infrequent pasta side dish is also OK. What we’re trying to avoid in the Base period is a diet dependent on moderate- to high-glycemic carbohydrate foods while emphasizing fat. This dietary shift will contribute to your aerobic endurance fitness.

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