Thursday, June 25, 2009

Western States 100

Over the past few months I've been priveleged to meet Maine's only two entrants into this weekend's Western States 100 ( a 100 mile trail race in California. The WS100 is the Boston of ultra's, attracting enough applicants to require a qualifying system and lottery.

Jamie and Dr. Jim (a fellow chiropractor) are Maine's two runners crazy enough..... I mean, good enough to qualify for this year's race.

I never even considered the possibility of doing an ultra until meeting these two guys. I was fortunate to join Jamie and one of his pacers on a night-time trail run, with the intent of practicing using headlamps on technical terrain. I've been so focused on technique in my running lately that it was a joy to tap into that timeless feeling of running. I was focused more on just making sure not to trip over roots and fall into puddles in the dark, that two hours went by in a flash. I gained some appreciation for the mental state I presume one needs to enter to complete something like WS. I can't say I'm entering the lottery for next year but I think I can see how its possible at least.

So join me in wishing these two guys the best. As you go to bed Saturday night send them some positive mental energy as they don headlamps to finish out their journey!

The $900 Foot

“I’ve spent $900 on this foot so far. If it gets injured again I think my husband is going to divorce me!”

Words spoken recently by a plantar fascitis sufferer. She had been dealing with this issue for at least a year. Between seeing her podiatrist for orthotics and cortisone injections, me, and then most recently a rolfer, the foot pain had finally resolved. Now she was looking for guidance on getting back into running safely.

My response essentially was, “Run barefoot.”

I’ve finally reached the point where I can look a person in this situation in the eye and make this recommendation. This is in large part to reading the new book ‘Born to Run’ recently. I’ve been leaning in the minimalist shoe direction for about three years now in my own running. During this time I’ve discussed the benefits of getting away from orthotics and bulky stability shoes with only a few runners who seemed open-minded and good candidates for this approach.
Reading ‘Born to Run’ however, has caused a paradigm shift in my approach to running injuries, particularly to the feet. I realized that there are many other people, who are much more qualified than I, who believe that modern running shoes sometimes cause more problems than they help.

Think about the fact that in regions of the world where people don’t wear shoes, plantar fascitis is almost non-existent. So if we reverse engineer the problem, we can assume that there is something about shoes that actually promotes increased stress to the heel. So why do we then recommend to plantar fascitis sufferers that they need more cushioning or support in the form of heavier shoes or orthotics. Have you heard the definition of insanity? To continue doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Now I’m not saying you need to eschew running shoes altogether. But understand what they do. The main function of all the various motion control features is to decrease the amount of muscle contraction required to stabilize your foot. The flip side to this is that by only running in shoes, your feet become weaker with time. Imagine if you put on a nice soft neck brace. It would probably feel good for a while. You could totally relax your neck muscles and allow the brace to carry the weight of your head. Now imagine how you would feel upon removing it if you had left it on for two weeks. You would have experienced so much muscle atrophy that you could barely hold your head up. I see runners and other athletes everyday who are in otherwise great shape but who have weak feet. We forget that our feet are supported by muscles and other soft tissues that respond to appropriate conditioning by becoming stronger.

I’ve come to question if many if not most foot injuries, and even many knee injuries, would have happened in the first place had the person done regular training barefoot or in something like Vibram Five Fingers to experience what running shoeless feels like. Running this way, you experience constant feedback from your feet and adjust your gait accordingly. Your lower extremities become stronger with time, instead of weaker.

So, for our friend with the expensive foot, I honestly thought that running barefoot or in Vibrams on soft grass would be the safest means of getting back into running.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Barefoot Running Part I

So I received an email from a runner I've worked with in the past for various issues. She's taken my rants to heart and has started some barefoot running. It really surprised me, as I tend to think of barefooters as a fringe bunch, and she is a pretty straight-laced mom. But there is no denying the sheer pleasure of running without shoes. Her only complant is:

"My problem is that I run to [the trail] in my Sauconies and then run barefoot and put my shoes back on to run home and I feel awkward trying to run in my shoes after running barefoot. It just feels wrong! "

I've felt the same way since starting to wear my Vibram Five Fingers. As I've grown accustomed to them I always find they are what go on my feet as I head out the door. The biggest surprise for me so far is how easy its gotten to run even on the road in the Vibrams, which have absolutely no cushioning. I run often in Evergreen cemetary, and usually by default wind up in the grass or dirt roads, even when wearing shoes. The other morning while running there in the Virbrams, having been lost in thought for a while, I realized I was on the asphalt, but hadn't even recognized the difference.

Studies have shown that when your run barefoot, you automatically adjust your gait to soak up the impact with your muscles and tendons. There is even an observed paradox, when measuring Ground Reaction Forces, that barefooters actually are landing with less force. The cushioning of the shoe attenuates some of the pain signal to your brain, so essentially it allows you to land harder.

Running in Vibrams (to abbreviate I'll start calling it "Varefooting") gives you the same benefits with an extra layer to protect your skin.

There will be many more posts on this topic.....

Monday, June 8, 2009

First Post

So here goes with my first blog entry. Funnily enough, this inaugural post goes against my stated intent of sticking with injury prevention topics vs. aspects of training. However this is a good example of "blog-quality" material and why I started this in the first place.

I heard of a crazy training plan today that I had to share. I've been working with an Olympic caliber biathlete (skate skiing and shooting) for the past several months. He is working with a coach named Jay T. Kearney, Ph.D., a former Olympian himself and who also works with Carmichael Training. He has devised a plan that could purportedly raise one's max VO2 by 50%. If true, this is an astounding number!

The plan basically entails several week blocks of six days a week of intensity training. I am being deliberately vague because: 1. I don't know the exact details yet myself 2. This is a pretty new concept that goes against conventional wisdom, and 3. This is probably not appropriate for most of us.

The point I wanted to make is that apparently your max VO2 isn't as set in stone as we've been told. This makes sense to me. Over the years I've come to realize that there are other physical (and mental) attributes that are more malleable than we've been led to believe. I've spent the past three years working to change my running form, culminating in running the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge in Vibrams (essentially bare-foot- more on this later.) I had an awesome time at the race and have finally reached the point where running has become a real joy again.

However when the after-glow of the race subsided and I was looking at my (slightly below) MOP time, I decided that my next goal is to get faster. I'm tired of being passed by people with horrible form! So today's info came at just the right time for me: can't say that I'll be doing six days a week of intensity training, but its nice to know there is hope of getting faster.