Tips For Women Over Fourty When Running

Being a runner over 40 has presented new areas of interest (and concern) for me on the road and more importantly in my training and recovery off the road. I love to run and it’s great to see research being done on older runners…the Stanford study that shows that running slows aging or the Yale study that shows that older marathon runners (women in particular) are improving their running times more than younger runners.

I would like to share some insights and tips that I have learned along the way. Many of these women’s running tips can apply to all runners, but they definitely take on a new perspective as the years go on and we get older, wiser, and perhaps, faster…

Training Tips:

1. Adding Miles: SLOWLY! Use the 10% rule. Add no more than 10% increase of the mileage each week. Here’s more detailed explanation and chart from FitSugar.

2. Warmup: As we get older, the body needs time to get going and giving it that time will help avoid injuries. See “The Perfect Warmup” from Runner’s World.

3.Cross-Training: Is a must for any runner, but as you age the relationship between cross-training and running becomes even more important. For a different, low impact, cross-training option, see our recent post on Aqua Running (Pool Running). Core exercises have become another essential, here’s some good ones from Runners World.

4.Strength Training: There is a lot of information out there on lifting weights and strength training, but being careful to start this in the “right” way is important as we get older. Running Planet has done a nice job w/ laying out The 8 rules of Strength Training”. We have some good videos on our Resources page.

5.Stretching/Yoga: Another must for the aging runner (and this has certainly been debated by many). Dara Torres proved this in her Olympic effort that stunned us all. She adhered to a strict resistance stretching regime (see previous post – Doing the Home Stretch with Dara Torres). I am not a huge fan of yoga, but here’s a good article by Runners World about a runner w/ a ITB injury who didn’t like yoga at the beginning, then became a convert. My always injury free LDF (“Long Distance Friend”) swears by power yoga!

6.Rest: This has become one of the most important parts of my training. If I don’t get enough rest, my body begins to break down. Listen (very closely) to your body.

7.Massage: Another Dara Torres staple and one of my personal favorites. It does not matter if you have a fabulous husband like I do or get from a pro, it works to relieve the stress of training and tired muscles. You can even do it yourself w/ some videos by Rich Poley who wrote “Self Massage for Athletes”.

8.Set a Goal: Having a goal or a race to strive for makes the training have a purpose and keep me focused.

9.Training Programs: A little planning goes a long way. If possible, try to plan your training to run more often on softer surfaces like trails, dirt roads, grassy parks, or even the track. A few good programs are on our resource page. There are many good ones out there–find one that suits you.

10.The Track: Most marathon training programs will include track work as it helps develop the fast twitch muscles to build speed and lung power during a race…getting older does not mean getting less competitive:) If I am training for a marathon, it really makes a difference for me especially in the later miles of the race. Good article from Runner’s World called “Running in Circles”.

11.Injury/Recovery: This one is hard for me as I have had many… at 46, I still like to run fast. There are several common injuries to running and I think I have had them all. See “Coming back from an injury” posts. I have learned to recognize my body’s warning signs and back off. Many of these tips (see Rest, Diet, Stretching/Yoga, Massage, Weight/BMI, Orthotics, and more) are meant to help avoid injuries or help w/ recovery.

12.Running with Music: Running with music can help motivation and provide a needed distraction. I have also learned about the importance of BPM (beats per minute) and ensuring that if you are listening to a song, be sure it is not too slow and unconsciously slowing your pace. Find 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s music along w/ best bands of today and learn more about BPMs in this post: Best Running Music Ever

13.Weight/BMI: It seems that fast marathoners have a low Body Mass Index (BMI). Marathon Guide has a quick tool to calculate your BMI. Knowing yours can help to find the “right” BMI for your best running performance. See also post: What’s the ‘right’ BMI for a woman marathoner?”

14.Running in Different types of Weather: I am not a treadmill runner, so I will run in anything short of a blizzard. With the right layers of clothing this is possible. However, if you are training in summer for a fall race, beware of weather differences. The weather during your race may be very different then when you are training. Don’t be discouraged if you are not able to run 17 miles the way you think you should when you are in 80-90 degree heat and high humidity.

15.Travel Running: Always bring the running shoes along! Some of my best runs have been among the monuments of parks, cityscapes and beaches of sand. Hotels (see this post that mentions WestinRun) now will provide maps (and sometimes runners) to guide you. With the help of Map My Run you can find a route from anywhere. Take a look at some of our Travel running posts.

16.Running and Sex: Here’s an interesting article by Running Times that quotes an Israeli scientist who declared “Women compete better after orgasm, especially high-jumpers and runners”…who am I to argue w/ Israeli scientists?

17. Fartlek Training: Sports Fitness Advisor has some good tips on how to incorporate fartlek into your training (psst…if you don’t know what fartlek is, check out 10Ktruth.com’s “Runnerspeak – Dictionary of Running Jargon and Other Sport Terms”).

Nutrition and Hydration Tips:

18. Type of Diet: Adhering to a well-balanced, low-fat, wholegrain diet that is higher in carbs has always been the best route for me. I love a good smoothie (see post Smoothie Operator –quick nutritional training meal”) while training. Here’s an interesting article w/ good tips on eating from Cool Running called “The Runner’s Diet”.

19.Hydration: It used to be all water and Gatorade for me, but now as I get older I don’t want the same amount of calories. I opt for the lower calorie alternatives like electrolyte powder mixes (see post: “Water log: Hydration and road recovery options for runners”).

20. Eating after Running: The window for eating after running is small, but important. See post “Refuel ‘Right’ after a Run”

Gear Tips:

21. Running Clothes/Bra: I like my running clothes sporty–not funky, but this is obviously personal preference. A good running bra will go a long way…avoid cotton at all cost. I have learned that running skirts are the most polarizing of all apparel items. However, if you love wearing a skirt, check out the Skirtchaser Race Series…looks like fun!

22.Running Shoes/Socks: Running shoes are so personal the only way to really find a pair is to go to a running store and keep trying them on until you find one that feels comfortable. There are tons of shoe guides for different types of feet that are helpful in narrowing it all down. Learning about pronation and choosing a shoe that fits whether you have normal pronation, underpronation (or supination), or overpronation (or hyper-pronation) is key. Runner’s World has a good article along with videos on pronation here. I have changed my shoe once. I alternate pairs of three for marathon training (it used to be two but with my foot issues, it’s now three). Here’s Runner’s World’s “Spring 2009 Running Shoe Guide”. The Asics Gel Kayano 15’s are the “Editor’s Choice” winners and also the shoes I use. A few other quick tips:

  • Measure your feet: As you age, your foot size may gradually change. Make sure salesperson measures your foot while you are standing up
  • Shop later in day: As the day goes on, you feet get slightly larger.
  • Orthotics and socks: Wear socks you use and bring orthotics to store when trying out shoes. Find “dry-wick” type of socks instead of cotton.
  • Check wear: Most shoes give you between 300 – 500 miles of running. Keep track of the miles (see #24- Running Log). Replacing shoes can avoid unnecessary injuries. Check for wear on soles and inside the shoe as well.
  • Local running store: Find a good store that specializes in running shoes. Bring in your old shoes when looking for new ones. A good running shoe specialist should be able to look at old shoe and note the wear/fit when choosing a proper new shoe. As about return policy, many stores will let you run in the shoes and return them if they cause problems. Once you’ve found the shoes that work for you, you may be able to find the shoes again on-line at places like Runners Warehouse (a bold pace readers get 15% off), Overstock, or Holabird Sports.
  • Break in the shoe: Don’t wear a new shoe to a marathon, be sure you have had time to break it in. However, when buying a new shoe, it should feel good when you are trying it on.
  • Thumb-width: Have a thumb width between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. I wear a 1/2 size bigger to make sure I have room in the toe box.
  • Get medical advice: If you have a persistent problem with your feet, get the advice of a medical professional. Believe me, waiting for a foot to heal can be agonizing. Don’t make it take any longer by waiting to get help.

Here’s a great video from Howcast that covers many of these tips: “How to Choose a Running Shoe”

23. Orthotics: I overpronate and could not live without these. If you have foot issues (plantar fasciitis, heal spurs, significant overpronation or underpronation, etc.), I’d recommend seeing a sports doc to consider orthotics as your new sole-mates:)

24.Running Log: Memory is not one of my strongest assets, so having a log to record my training keeps track of: weekly mileage, meals, shoe purchases (so I know when to retire shoes), favorite routes/runs, etc.

25. Running Watch/GPS: At heart, I am more of a zen runner (would rather not wear a watch or calculate each mile’s pace…just run), but the NYC marathon last year changed that for me. I went out too fast and had a hard time at the end. I now wear one again. There are great watches and GPS devices (see article from NY Times) that make it easy to calculate pace/time/distance. Another option in a marathon is to make use of “pacers” at a race…here’s Clif Bar’s Marathon Pace Team info.

26. Running Bag: See “What’s in your Running Bag? 10 Essential Items for Taking your Run on the Road”

27. Chaffing: Avoid blisters, use BodyGlide, Vaseline or new Asics Chafe Free. Apply anywhere that rubs…feet, nipples, etc. For more on Asics, see “The End of Run Chaffing?”

28. iPods: The must have for runners (even if you need to borrow from your child). I understand why a lot of runners do not like to use during races , but if you love music, this can be a great way to relax and keep going (ipods are now allowed at some races, see post “Music to my ears”). Be sure to choose songs that work w/ your pace/BPM.

29. Reading about Running: There are so many fabulous books out there on running that are fun to read. They can motivate and excite you. We have a few posted on our Amazon Store.

Racing Tips:

30.Finding a Race: Marathon guide or Racevine can help you find a marathons and other shorter races. These sites not only list races, they rate them.

31. Racing for a Charity: Millions of dollars a year are raised by runners for charity. It can make the race more meaningful if you have someone in mind as you run the miles. Supporting a good cause can also be a way into a sold-out race.

32.Women only Races: More magazine’s Marathon/Half-Marathon (they have the best expo), Zooma Women’s Race Series, Nike Women’s Marathon and See Jane Run are just a few of the women only races out there. They are fun, lively and a bit more polite then the co-ed races:)

33.Pace your Race: It is helpful to know your race goal and have the mile split times easily accessible. PaceTat is a durable, lightweight (actually weightless), and unobtrusive way to keep track of your pace while racing. These are simple transfers that you apply before you race and shows your mile split goals in clear large font. Brilliant idea, and only $2.00 – $2.99 per transfer. Or go the simple and FREE route w/ this tool from Clif Bar.

34.Speed at 40/Beating your PR:There have been numerous articles about how women are older women are getting faster and staying there (see ABC News article on Yale University Study). As we gain experience, we become more efficient runners. We know to run the tangents, prepare properly, and read tips like many we have listed here. We also have more time to train as our children get older.

35.Qualifying for Boston/The Boston Times: Boston is a great, tough race. It is an honor to run it. This is not one to be missed if you qualify. See some of our posts about the Boston Marathon. Check out the “Boston Marathon Qualifying Times.

36. The Race Day Survival Kit: You don’t want any last minute surprises on race day. Having a race day kit can help you to know you are prepared and keep you focused on the race. Assuming you already are wearing your clothes, shoes, have your watch, etc…there are still some items you need. There are two options… you can use a “check-in bag” where you have to wait in-line to get a claim ticket or use a “disposable bag” that has just the essentials and can be tossed. Here are checklists for both:

Check-in Bag:

  • ____Extra Clothes: Nice to have a spare top, shorts, and socks to change into after the race.
  • ____Sunglasses and sunscreen: If it’s a hot and sunny day, you’ll be glad you have these.
  • ____Towel: There may be a shower at the end of the race, but even if not, nice to have to towel off.
  • ____Phone: To contact friends after race
  • ____Money: For any emergency needs
  • ____Pre-race food and fluids
  • ____Post-race food and fluids
  • ____Race Number (if already have) and safety pins: Bring a few extra and you’ll make lots of friends:)
  • ____Race Chip (if already have)
  • ____Course map/Race instructions
  • ____Band-aids/Athletic Tape/First aid
  • ____BodyGlide/Vaseline/Chafe Free
  • ____Deodorant
  • ____Large garbage bag: Helpful if windy or raining before the race or just to sit on.
  • ____Wipes: Useful for nasty porta-potty
  • ____Magazine: Nice to catch up on Vanity Fair while waiting in line for race to start:)
  • ____Extra Goo packets: Use safety pin to keep a couple with you for during the race.

Disposable Bag:

  • ____Pre-race food and fluids
  • ____Wipes: Useful for nasty porta-potty
  • ____Throwaway old clothes: Sweatshirt or long-sleeve shirt. Most races donate discarded clothes to charity.
  • ____Race Number (if already have) and safety pins: Bring a few extra and you’ll make lots of friends:)
  • ____Race Chip (if already have)
  • ____Magazine: Nice to catch up on Vanity Fair while waiting in line for start:) Put in garbage before start.
  • ____Large garbage bag: Helpful if windy or raining before the race or just to sit on.
  • ____Extra Goo packets: Use safety pin to keep a couple with you for during the race

The Running Psyche Tips:

37. Making time for yourself: Running = sanity. Alone or with friends it has fantastic therapeutic results that last all day. I find doing it early in the morning is best as I know I’ll get my run in and “life stuff” during the day will not get in the way.

38.The Running Group: One of my LDFs and I always joke how we are going to write a book about the nuances of our running group. Finding friends to share running with is a wonderful thing and helps you to stay motivated and enjoy the company along with the run.

39. Running Websites/Blogs: There is so much on the web now that you can tap into for running advice, training, support…see our blogroll. It’s a great time to be a runner. If you’re not getting automatic e-mail updates from a bold pace, don’t miss out! Or if you prefer, get our RSS feed.

40. Going beyond your limits: I have to add this because it is the reason I give my son every time he asks why I run…”running for me is about going beyond the limits I have of myself in my mind”. He’s very logical and always answers…”limits are definitive–you can’t go beyond them”…I keep trying to prove him wrong.

Perhaps it is the fresh air or the hours of laboring over one subject with LDFs but from running has come some profound realizations. My LDF Heidi and I have decided that everything our children need to know about life we can relate to running. A life manual in the making perhaps? There is always “One for the THE Book…” decided on a run.

 

Signs That You Need New Running Shoes

The running shoe model needs to be fixed. Pronation, motion control, cushioning, and stability shoes? Get rid of them all.

It’s not just barefoot running and minimalism versus running shoes, the either/or situation many portray it to be. It’s much deeper than that. It’s not even that running shoe companies are evil and out to make a profit. Shoe companies may be accomplishing the goals they set out for, but maybe the goals their aiming for are not what need to be done. The paradigm that running shoes are built upon is the problem.

Running shoes are built upon two central premises, impact forces and pronation. Their goals are simple, limit impact forces and prevent overprontation. This has led to a classification system based on cushioning, stability, and motion control. The problem is that this system may not have any ground to stand on. Have we been focused on the wrong things for 40+years?

I’ll start with the customary statistic of 33-56% of runners get injured every year (Bruggerman, 2007). That is kind of mind blowing when you think about it. Since there are a ton of injuries going on, let’s look at what shoes are supposed to do.

Pronation:

As said earlier, shoes are built upon the premise that impact forces and pronation are what cause injuries. Pronation, in particular has been constructed as the bane of all runners. We have become inundated with limiting pronation via motion control shoes. The central idea behind pronation is that overpronating causes rotation of the lower leg(i.e. ankle,tibia, knee) putting stress on the joints and therefore leading to injuries. Running shoes are therefore designed to limit this pronation. Essentially, running shoes are developed and designed to put the body in “proper” alignment. But do we really need proper alignment?

This paradigm on pronation relies on two main things: (1)over pronation causes injuries and (2) running shoes can alter pronation.

Looking at the first premise, we can see several studies that do not show a link between pronation and injuries. In an epidemiological study by Wen et al. (1997), he found that lower extremitly alignment was not a major risk factor for marathon runners. In another study by Wen et al. (1998), this time a prospective study, he concluded that ” Minor variations in lower extremity alignment do not appear conclusively to be major risk factors for overuse injuries in runners.” Other studies have reached similar conclusions. One by Nigg et al. (2000) showed that foot and ankle movement did not predict injuries in a large group of runners.

If foot movement/pronation does not predict injuries or is not a risk factor for injuries, then one has to question whether the concept is sound or working…

Looking at the second premise, do shoes even modify pronation? Motion control shoes are designed to decrease pronation through a variety of mechanisms. Most choose to insert a medial post or a similar device. In a study by Stacoff (2001), they tested several motion control shoe devices and found that they did not alter pronation and did not change the kinematics of the tibia or calcaneus bones either. Similarly, another study by Butler (2007) found that motion control shoes showed no difference in peak pronation when compared to cushioning shoes. Lastly, Dixon (2007) found similar results showing that motion control shoes did not reduce peak eversion (pronation) and didn’t change the concentration of pressure.

This is sort of a double whammy on motion control shoes. If excessive pronation does not cause injuries to the degree that everyone thinks, and if motion control shoes don’t even alter pronation, what’s the point of a motion control shoe?

Cushioning:

Impact forces are the other major scoundrel of running injuries. The thinking goes like this, the greater the impact force on the lower the leg, the greater stress the foot/leg takes, which could potentially lead to injuries. To combat this fear, running shoes, particular cushioning ones, are to the rescue. Let’s take a look.

The first question is, do cushioning shoes do their job?

Wegener(2008) tested out the Asics Gel-Nimbus and the Brooks Glycerin to see if they reduced plantar pressure. They found that the shoes did their job!….But where it reduced pressure varied highly. Meaning that pressure reduction varied between forefoot/rearfoot/etc. This led to the interesting conclusion that their should be a shift in prescribing shoes to one based on where plantar pressure is highest for that individual person. It should be noted that this reduction in pressure was based on a comparison to another shoe, a tennis shoe. I’m not sure that this is a good control. Basically, this study tells us that cushioned running shoes decrease peak pressure when compared to a Tennis shoe.

In a review on the subject, Nigg (2000) found that both external and internal impact force peaks were not or barely influenced by the running shoes midsole. This means that the cushioning type does not change impact forces much, if at all. But how can this be? I mean it’s common sense if you jumped on concrete vs. jumped on a shoe foam like surface, the shoe surface is softer right? We’ll come back to this question in a minute.

Impact Forces: The picture gets cloudier:

But it’s not as simple as described above. In an interesting study by Scott (1990) they looked at peak loads on the various sites of likely injury for runners (Achilles, knee, etc.). All peak loads occurred during mid-stance and push off. This led to an important finding that “the impact force at heel contact was estimated to have no effect on the peak force seen at the chronic injury sites,” and led to speculation that impact force did not relate injury development.

Further complicating the impact force idea is that when looking at injury rates of those running on hard surfaces or soft surfaces, there appears to be no protective benefit of running on soft surfaces. Why is this? Because of something called pre-activation and muscle tuning which will be discussed below.

Supporting this data, other studies have shown that people who have a low peak impact have the same likelihood of getting injured as those with a high peak impact force (Nigg, 1997). If you want to complicate things even further, impact seems to be the driving force between increased bone density.

As a coach or trainer this should make sense. The bone responds to the stimulus by becoming more resistant to it, IF the stimulus is not too large and there is enough recovery.

Underestimating our Body: Impact forces as feedback:

Back to the question I asked earlier: How can impact forces not change based on shoe sole softness and why isn’t running on hard surfaces lead to more injuries?

The problem is, once again, we underestimate the human body! It’s an amazing thing, and we never give it the credit it deserves. The body adapts to the surface that it’s going to strike, if you give it a chance. The body adapts to both shoe and surface adjusting impact forces via changes joint stiffness, the way the foot strikes, and a concept called muscle tuning.

An example of this can be seen with barefoot running, the diminished proprioception (sensory feedback) of wearing a shoe negates the cushioning of the shoe. Studies using minimal shoes/barefoot have shown that the body seems to adapt the impact forces/landing based on feedback and feedforward data. When running or landing from a jump, the body takes in all the sensory info, plus prior experiences, and adjusts to protect itself/land optimally As mentioned above, it does this through a variety of mechanisms. Thus, you stick some cushioned running shoe on the bottom of your foot and the body goes “Oh, we’re okay, we don’t need to worry about impact as much, we’ve got this soft piece of junk on our foot.

One concept that needs to be further discussed is muscle tuning. It’s a concept recently proposed by Nigg et al. in 2000. He sees impact force as a signal or a source of feedback, as I stated earlier. The body then uses this information and adjusts accordingly to minimize soft tissue vibration and/or bone vibration. His contention is that impact force is not the problem, but rather the signal. Muscle tuning is essentially controlling these vibrations via a variety of methods. One potential mechanism is pre-activation. Pre-activation is activation of the muscles prior to impact. In this case it serves as a way of muscle tuning to prepare for impact and in addition can alter muscle stiffness, which is another way to prepare for impact. Pre-activation has been established with multiple EMG studies.

Shoes not only impact this, but surface type does too. As mentioned previously, the change in running surface did not impact injury rates. Why? Probably because the body adapts to running surface. In an interesting study measuring muscle activity, O’Flynn(1996) found that pre-activation changed based on surface. To prepare for impact, and presumably to minimize muscle/bone vibration, when running on concrete pre-activation was very high, when running on a soft track, not so much.

What all of this means is that the body adapts via sensory input. It has several different adaptation methods. A shoe influences how it adapts. The shoe is not doing anything to alter cushioning, it is simply altering how the body responds to impact. It’s a significant mindset jump if you think about it. Here’s the summary: The type of shoe and material of the shoe changes impact NOT because of alignment of the lower leg or because of changes in cushioning. Instead it changes impact characteristics because it alters the sensory feedback.

In conclusion on the cushioning concept. Well, what are we trying to cushion? Heel impact forces have not been shown to relate to injuries, in fact in one study low impact runners had a 30% injury rate compared to a 20% injury rate in high impact runners. Shoe midsoles do not change, or marginally change impact forces anyway. So, not only may cushioning not be the answer, the shoes might not even be doing their job. But what about those shoe cushioning studies showing improved cushioning with their new midsole?! Well, the majority of that testing is done by using a machine to simulate the impact forces that you experience during running. That means, yes it may cushion an impact more, but it doesn’t take into account the role of the body adjusting impact based on feedback.

The reason cushioning doesn’t work? Because the body adapts based on feedback and feedforward information. These results prompted one notable researcher(Nigg,2000) to call for the reconsideration of the cushioning paradigm for running shoes.

Barefoot running?

Quickly, this topic could not be complete without a brief mention of barefoot running. An interesting thing to note is that the initial peak impact force is absent in barefoot running when compared to running with shoes. What this means is that, the impact forces look like (A) for shoes and (B) for barefoot. That initial little blip in A is the initial impact force. There is a hypothesis that this initial impact force is related to injuries.

A recent study by Squadrone et al.(2009) compared running shoes, barefoot running, and running in Vibram Five Fingers. They demonstrated reduced impact forces, shorter ground contact and stride length, but increased stride frequency while running barefoot (and in Vibrams) as compared to running with shoes. This is not unexpected, but shows that running shoes do in fact alter our normal strides. An interesting point is the reduction in stride length but increase in stride frequency. Shoes tend to promote this longer stride at a consequence of ground contact times and frequency. This happens because of changes in feedback signaling, increased likelihood to land on heel stretched out, increased weight, all of which lead to longer times on the ground. It’s interesting to note that elite runners all have short ground contacts and high frequencies (as demonstrated by the often quoted Daniels study of 180 strides per minute).

Tying this to the discussion above on the body controlling things based on sensory information, when running barefoot, there is a higher degree of stiffness in the lower leg. Increased stiffness can result in an increased SSC (stretch shortening cycle) response, resulting in greater force on the subsequent push off (2001). Dalleau et al. demonstrated that pre-activation causing increased stiffness improved Running Economy. In his study, the energy cost of running was related to the stiffness of the lower leg (1998)

Another recent study found that knee flexion torque, knee varus torque, and hip internal rotation torque all were significantly greater in shoes compared to barefoot. What does all of this mean? Potentially, this means more stress on the joints in this area. Jay Dicharry put it best when he said:

“The soft materials in modern running shoes allow a contact style that you would not use barefoot. The foot no longer gets the proprioceptive cues that it gets unshod. The foot naturally accommodates to surfaces rapidly, but a midsole can impair the foot’s ability to react to the ground. This can mute or alter feedback the body gets while running. These factors allow a runner to adopt a gait that causes the elevated forces observed above.”

The one thing that non-barefoot/heel strike proponents use to dismiss midfoot striking/barefoot running is the Achilles tendon. They say, correctly, that the load on the Achilles is higher in midfoot striking runners. The Achilles is meant to take a large load. The problem is we’ve weakened the Achilles through years of wearing shoes with their elevated heels. Essentially, we’ve created the Achilles problem with the shoes meant to prevent it. The Achilles is designed to operate in a rubber band like fashion.. During impact such as the braking or contact phase of running, the achilles tendon stores energy and then subsequent releases that energy via recoil during the take off phase of running. The Achilles, can store and return approximately 35% of its kinetic energy (Ker, 1987). Without this elastic storage and return, the oxygen uptake required would be 30-40% higher! So, in terms of performance why are we trying to minimize the tendonous contribution? It’s like giving away free energy.

Running shoes do not utilize the elastic storage and return as well as barefoot or minimal shoes. More energy is lost with shoes than with barefoot running (Alexander and Bennett, 1989). In addition, in some models of shoes, the arch is not allowed to function like a spring. The arch of the foot can store around 17% of kinetic energy (Ker, 1987). Given these results, its not surprising that running barefoot when compared to running with shoes is more efficient. Several studies have shown a decreased VO2 at the same pace with barefoot running, even when weight is taken into account. This should be no surprise as I mentioned above, without elastic recoil VO2 requirement would be 30-40% higher. Running in a minimal shoe allows for better utilization of this system.

So, the take away message is that shoes change natural mechanics to one that creates mechanical changes that are not optimal for running fast (decreased stride frequency, increased ground contact, decreased stiffness of the system, decreased elastic contribution, and on and on).

Tying it together with elites:

Looking at elite athletes, when racing and training, they generally have higher turnover, minimal ground contact time, and a foot strike that is under their center of gravity. Since the majority of elites exhibit these same characteristics while racing, it makes sense that this is the optimal way to run fast. So, why are we wearing footwear that is designed to increase ground contact, decrease turnover, and promote footstrike out in front of the center of gravity? I have no idea.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, I’m not some fanatic saying everyone ditch shoes now. Chances are you’ve been running in shoes for 20+ years. Your bodies done some adapting during that time. You’ve got to gradually change if you want to undue some of the changes.

The purpose of this article wasn’t to talk about the benefits of barefoot running. Instead it was to point out the problems with Running Shoe classification. It’s based on a cushioning/pronation paradigm that simply is not as true as they want us to believe. That paradigm needs to be reevaluated. It’s not founded on good science but rather initial ideas that made sense with no science behind them, but upon further review may not stand up to testing. A recent study found that using the good old shoe classification system that everyone uses, had little influence on injury prevention in a large group of Army Basic Training participants (Knapik, 2009). They concluded that selecting shoes based on arch height (like all major running magazines suggest) is not necessary if injury prevention is the goal. I guess that means the systems broken…

Where do we go and how do we fix it? I have no idea. Sorry, no genius answers here. My inclination is that we aim for letting the foot function how it is meant to function, or at least come up with some shoe that may alter foot mechanics but while still allowing feedback/functionality of the body. The first step is looking at the foundation on which running shoes are built upon, the motion control, stability, and cushioning paradigm. My take is that it needs to be reevaluated. I’m going to end with something I’ve already said, but it’s an important concept to get across:

The body is more complicated and smarter than we give it credit. The type of shoe and material of the shoe changes impact or stride characteristics NOT because of alignment of the lower leg or because of changes in cushioning. Instead it changes impact and stride characteristics because it alters the sensory feedback. The brain is a wonderful thing.’

If you found this article to be informative, I’d appreciate it If you passed it along. The goal is to get research based data out there so people can be well informed.

 

Tips To Increase Your Distance

So maybe you’re running for fitness or weight loss and logging 5 km or so 2-4 times per week. Then you wake up one day and decide, ‘Maybe I should run longer. I’ve always wanted to take on a 10 km run, or maybe even a half marathon.’ But there’s one problem: you don’t know how to safely increase your distance.

The first thing you should know is that it’s relatively easy to run longer distance, but you do need to know a few things. Increasing distance is a common cause of running injury but there are things you can do to reduce the risk of coming up hurt. I’ll cover some of those below.

Get Outside

If you’re currently running exclusively indoors on a treadmill or indoor track, plan to take your runs outside. For one thing, long duration treadmill runs are boring. The only time the scenery changes is when gym club members walk by or someone changes the channel on the TV.

I run outside in all seasons. You can dress for the conditions and enjoy the changing seasons, scenery and weather. The other benefit of running outdoors is that it has better health benefits that treadmill running. The changing grade, wind conditions and other elements all conspire to place added stress on the body, and it is stress that causes our bodies to grow stronger.

Schedule Your Long Low Run

Make one day a week the day when you run long distance. Many people like Saturday or Sunday morning and it becomes a ritual to head out with a group of like-minded runners aiming toward a common goal. For now, don’t try to increase the distance you run on your other runs. If you haven’t increased distance before, you will place yourself at increased risk of injury if you try increasing the distance of all your runs at the same time.

Stick to one long slow run which you can increase each week. A good rule of thumb for increasing distance is that it’s safe to increase your distance by 10-20% each week. That increase is for the total weekly mileage and/or the longest distance run. So get out your calculator and doing some figuring. Here’s an example:

You run 5 km 3 times per week for a total of 15 km. You can safely increase the distance of your long run to 6 km, which is 1 km or 20% longer than your longest run of 5 km. 1 km is only 6.7% of the weekly mileage of 15 km.

If you were thinking of running 20% longer than the weekly distance of 15, that would be 3 km added on to 5 km (for an 8 km run). That would be a 60% increase in distance. Bad idea!

Periodization

You should not try to increase distance every week for a long period of time. As you increase distance your body will adapt to the longer distances and for a while you’ll be excited as you cover new distances you’ve never run. However you will soon find that the distances become tougher and tougher. This resistance to training is a normal response by the body to continually increasing stress.

Periodization is a training method used by many athletes to overcome this resistance. The way it is done is to back off the training intensity – in this case running distance – every 4-5 weeks. So you would increase the distance of your long run every week for 3 or 4 weeks, then in the 4th or 5th week, you reduce the long run to a distance shorter than the previous week. The week after periodization, you continue increasing distance in line with the 10-20% rule. This will prevent the body from resisting training.

Consider a Goal-Specific Running Program

If you want to run farther, you might have a specific distance or perhaps a specific race in mind. There are running programs available that can take you from wherever you are to achieve your goal. A good program will be tailored for a certain starting point such as ‘able to run 10K.’ A good program will include a number of different training elements such as the long slow run, interval training, tempo runs and hill training. Each of these training elements conditions the body and its muscles a little differently. I liken it to baking a cake. You can’t make a cake (at least not one you’d like to eat) with flour alone. It takes a number of different ingredients assembled together to get the right results. Similarly, training for a specific distance or event should incorporate different elements in order to produce the right results.

Add Cross-Training to Your Program

Cross-training is training in any activity that is not specific to your sport – in this case running. Running can be very stressful to the body and can result in injury. Other activities such as swimming, cross-country skiing, bicycling, weight training or aerobics can be inserted into your training schedule instead of running. One benefit of this is that you may be able to increase the distance you run in other runs because you are dropping mileage. Another benefit is that you will actually strengthen muscles and tissues that will enhance your running performance. Cross-training can greatly enhance your running performance.

Check Out Your Running Shoes

Those shoes that have so faithfully served you for your short distance runs might not be up to the task of running longer distances. Sadly, you may need to buy some new or different shoes that will help you be successful as you crank up the mileage. You see, those shoes that work well for short distances might not provide adequate support because longer duration runs will tire out the muscles that support and protect you from injury. And avoiding injury is the name of the game.

So make your way to your local specialty running store and tell them what you’re up to. How much mileage you’re currently running each week, how far you intend to go. Take your old shoes so they can look at the wear patterns. You may be fine but you may wind up in a different shoe to support your new running goals. Besides, shouldn’t you reward yourself with a new pair of shoes to celebrate taking on this new challenge of running longer distance?

Increasing distance is a great way for runners to achieve more from their training. By approaching it with the right knowledge and skills, you can achieve great goals without injury.

 

Benefit of Barefoot Running

* Even if you do not jog or run, read on.

“When you run on the earth, and run with the earth, you can run forever ” -Tarahumara Indians

The more expensive your runners… the more likely you are to get leg injuries! It’s true, the multimillion dollar industry around the technology and science of creating running shoes is a farce. About a year ago, I had this intuitive feeling to start walking and running on soft grass. Instead of pounding the pavement in my runners and gradually sensing that my knees and joints were getting sorer, I started to take my shoes and socks off and start jogging on a grass oval near where I live. It was absolutely wonderful. Occasionally there would be some overnight rain, so the grass was slightly damp. I can’t begin to tell you how much more invigorating, energising and rejuvenating the whole experience was. More importantly, running bare foot actually felt more natural, and somehow more efficient and ‘less’ jarring on my body. After some ‘early-days’ testing I’m sure I’m running faster with less effort too.

After writing about the Tarahumara Indians in my first book, I came to know that they used to run in excess of 100 miles through the mountainous Copper Canyons of Mexico with nothing more than thin rubber-soled, home-made sandals. And I used to laugh watching videotapes of them shuffling along while beating some of the best elite ultramarathon runners from North America.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I have just recently finished reading one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s called ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher MacDougall(1). He is a US journalist with quite a high profile as a contributing editor for Men’s Health magazine and writing for prominent publications such as Esquire and the New York Times. The book outlines in detail how the human body was designed for running, and how to a large extent, the huge number of running related injuries we see in the modern world are not because running is bad for us. They are almost entirely on the incorrect way we run and most significantly… modern running shoes.

McDougall cites a multitude of scientific research studies, biomechanical analysis and expert opinions, to show that the more high-tech, expensive and ‘supportive’ our running shoes are, the more likely we are to get injured. This is due to the basic myth, that having running shoes or expensive orthotics, artificially supporting or propping up our feet is a good thing. Like anything where we artificially ‘prop up’ the body, and stop it from doing what it is designed to do naturally, the structures involved actually become ‘weaker’. Overtime, as the strength in the surrounding bones, ligaments and muscles become weaker, they are more likely to get injured. This is why about 75% of serious runners have some sort of leg injury each year.

A Glimpse of ‘Born to Run’

Here are some quotes and wisdoms from McDougall’s great book (though you’ll want to get it yourself if you like or have ever wanted to jog/run).

For millions of years, humans ran without arch support, pronation control or gel filled pads under their heels.” McDougall

Leonardo da Vinci considered the human foot, with its fantastic weight suspension system comprising one quarter of all the bones in the human body, ‘a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art’.

Abebe Bikila – an Ethiopian Marathoner ran barefoot over the cobblestones of Rome to win the 1960 Olympic marathon.

“Shoes block pain, not impact. Pain teaches us to run comfortably. From the moment you go barefoot you will change the way you run”. Barefoot Ken Bob

“Covering your feet with cushioned shoes is like turning off your smoke alarms” – Barefoot Ted

“Bricolage – the concept of ‘less is more’ or that the best solution is also the most elegant. Why add something if you’re born with everything you need?” Barefoot Ted

“A lot of foot and knee injuries that are currently playing us are actually caused by people running in shoes that make our feet weak, cause us to over-pronate, and give us knee problems.

In 1992 when the modern athletic shoe was invented by Nike, people had very strong feet and a much lower incidence of knee injuries.” Dr. Daniel Lieberman, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University.

“I believe that when my runners train barefoot, they run faster and suffer fewer injuries.” Stanford University head coach Vin Lananna

“There is no evidence that running shoes are any help at all in injury prevention.” – McDougall

In 2008 research paper for the British Journal of sports medicine, Dr. Craig Richards, a researcher at the University of Newcastle in Australia, revealed that there are no evidence-based studies – not one – that demonstrate that running shoes make you less prone to injury.

“No stonemason worth his trowl would ever stick a support under an arch; push up from underneath, and you weaken the whole structure.” Gerard Hartman, Physical therapist for many of the world’s greatest distance runners.

“The foot is supposed to pronate.” Hartman (i.e. it’s perfectly natural!)

“Putting your feet in shoes is similar to putting them in a plaster cast” Hartman

“Painful truth No1. – The Best Shoes are the Worst” – McDougall

In the early 2000, Nike did their own research on barefoot running, and were astounded by the results. They quickly and subsequently shifted into finding a way to make money out of running barefoot. Two years later they launched worldwide TV ads showing barefoot athletes – from Kenyan marathon runners to Brazilian dancers, rock climbers and karate masters. The messages flashing across the screen were “Your feet are your foundation. Wake them up! Make them strong! Connect with the ground… Natural technology allows natural motion… Power to your feet.” Across the sole of a barefoot is the written, ‘Performance Starts Here’. And it all ends with the final slogan… ‘Run barefoot’.

And my two favourite quotes of all…

“The best runner leaves no tracks.” – Tao Te Ching

“You don’t stop running because you get older, you get old because you stop running.”

In a Nutshell

Interestingly, primitive cultures that haven’t had any type of modern running shoes, and instead have relied on the infinite wisdom of Mother Nature in designing the human foot, can run for many miles every day for their whole lives, and never, ever have one injury.

Why? Because our feet are exquisitely designed by the master creator herself. Over a quarter of the bones in our bodies are in our feet. When we land on our mid-foot (rather than that heel), which we tend to do when we wear ‘cushioned’ runners – because we know that the running shoes are going to cushion us – the weight of the body and the force it generates on the lower legs gets displaced.

Without the cushioning of expensive running shoes, instead of thrusting our front leg too far in front of us and thus impacting our lower body with a force of 12 times our body weight, we actually start running in a more ‘natural’ manner. The feet tend to skim closer to the ground, landing softer and on the middle and/or the balls of the foot. This utilises the unique design of the foot to displace the force more efficiently, taking the stress off the feet and lower legs.

Not only that, but this way of running also strengthens one’s feet, ankles and legs, thus minimising the risk of injury long-term. It is also far more efficient. If you start doing it for a few weeks, you will likely find that you can run just as quick as you previously did but with much less effort. *

What if you can’t run on grass?

No problem. Many people don’t have a nice lush, safe patch of grass to run on. Basically, there’s two options.

Option 1: What MacDougall and I recommend, is that you just purchase yourself a basic (and cheap) pair of runners. The cheaper, and the less shock absorption and support they have, the better. They will make you run more naturally, make your feet work as they were designed, and over time strengthen your feet, ankles and legs.* While the famous ‘Dunlop volleys’ are a bit of a source of derision and laughter these days, they are actually a great pair of runners to purchase. I bought a pair myself a few months ago for $17 at Target. They’re fantastic… and what a fashion accessory! I get some great looks at the gym from both guys & girls!

My ‘Stunning’ Barefoot Runners – I Get Some Great looks!!!

Option 2: The other option is to buy yourself a pair of ‘barefoot runners’. Yes, even the biggest manufacturers of running shoes in the world, including Nike, now admit that their most expensive runners are often the key cause of injuries. There are many brands of barefoot runners out there these days. I bought myself a pair of ‘Vibram five fingers’ (see left). These are probably the best known but you could Google ‘barefoot running’ or ‘barefoot running shoes’ and be able to get a cheaper pair somewhere.

* IMPORTANT NOTE: This should be done very gradually to avoid injury, see suggestions below. Suggestions for YOU:

    • Even if you just like to walk walk, rather than jogging or running, wherever possible, take your shoes and socks off and go barefoot (obviously, only if it is 100% safe to do so). Doing so on slightly wet grass is even better. (You get the benefits of the ancient practice of ‘earthing’ yourself also).

 

    • If you are a jogger or runner, especially if you usually jog on a gymnasium treadmill or on hard services, look to purchase yourself some ‘barefoot runners’ or some cheap runners (e.g. Dunlop volleys) with minimal support/shock absorption. Once done, gradually progress from walking, to a very slow shuffle to jogging over a period of ‘WEEKS’. Once again, this should be done very gradually and with the correct running technique (see 3.) to avoid injury!

 

    • Although I am suggesting it is better long-term to walk or jog either barefoot on soft surfaces, or with minimal support on harder surfaces, this. You MUST run biomechanically correctly. This includes having your body upright, back straight, head up, and hips aligned. Your feet skim close to the ground, your stride length should be much shorter (quicker is OK) and you should have a softish foot landing around the mid-foot. As your body will be unused to this way of moving, you MUST start off very slowly and build up very gradually. I would suggest just walking for a week or two, then doing short five-minute shuffles for another week. Then just build-up 5 or 10 minutes per week. I.e. this is a very gradual transition to a different form of jogging/running.

 

    • Please do not just rush out and start running around barefoot, as you will more likely do yourself injury or harm.

 

    • Jog on soft (dewy) grass – without prickles or bindies! Arghh! – where possible. This is beautiful!

 

    • Generally, try to avoid this (or any type of running) on really hard surfaces such as concrete. If running on such surfaces you might still want to use some more ‘cushioned’ support, make 100% sure you are running with the proper technique (landing ‘lightly’) or just try and avoid it altogether.Note; When running on hard surfaces such as concrete or pavement, I usually wear ‘normal’ running shoes (nothing high-tech, but something with a bit of padding). Whenever I run on grass, I run barefoot and whenever I am on a gym treadmill, dirt track, running or walking track etc, I’ll generally wear my Vibram five fingers. Regardless of the surface however, I try to run with the technique described above so that even on hard surfaces it doesn’t exacerbate potential problems (having some slightly dodgy/arthritic knees due to my years of football and heavy leg weights etc, I’m conscious of not trying to aggravate these further – but this may not apply to you).

 

    • For further information on all the scientific evidence, world leading expert opinions, and anecdotes of the world’s greatest runners who don’t wear modern running shoes and never get injured, or if you are just really into running, get yourself a copy of ‘Born to Run'(1). It’s a great read.

 

  • Get back to nature, and experience how walking and running were designed to be. It could truly revolutionise the way you think about jogging and exercise. You might even find it enjoyable, if not exhilarating. Seriously! Enjoy.