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.


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).