Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Running Shoes: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Emphathize with Imelda Marcos

The Nike Vomero 5

In addition to changing my approach to training, one of my reactions to the stress fractures was to assess my footwear. I had been using well cushioned daily trainers for 95% of my mileage when I was injured. The Nike Vomero was my original shoe of choice, and I was on my second pair in early 2011. I had added the Mizuno Wave Rider 13 mid-summer, and alternated the two daily trainers leading up to the injury. The recent focus on minimalist footwear and smaller heel-to-toe drop intrigued me, and I figured that in order to strengthen my lower leg, it would be a good idea to acquire a number of different style running shoes, offering different drops and amounts of cushioning.
The Mizuno Wave Rider 15, with Road ID
I skipped the Wave Rider 14, but Mizuno released the Wave Rider 15 with a similar feel to the 13, so the Wave Rider keeps its place in my quiver as a go-to daily trainer. I find it is good to have a well cushioned shoe for the long slow distance runs where speed is not the focus and the cushioning helps mitigate the pounding of road miles. Both the Vomero and the Wave Rider have the traditional heel to toe drop of 12mm or more, so I began looking to smaller drops and bought my first racing flat, the Mizuno Ronin 2, with a drop of 9mm and significantly less cushioning.

The Mizuno Ronin 2
The Ronin 2 is a great shoe: lightweight, comfortable mid-sole and a durable out-sole. I wear it for road races only, as they no longer make this version, and I want them to last a long time. I have about 100 miles on them, and they keep getting better with age. I am curious if they offer enough cushioning for a road marathon. I plan to wear them in December for the California International Marathon in Sacramento, so I will have to put a couple of long runs on them this fall to determine if they will be my best choice.

The Mizuno Wave Ascend 5
For trail running, I use the Mizuno Wave Ascend 5. This shoe is very similar to the Wave Rider, with moderate cushioning, but has a more aggressive out-sole providing more traction off-road. I bought them for my first trail race, the 2011 Freedom Run 5K. The course included pine needle covered single-track, and the Ascend performed well. This shoe does not have a rock-plate in the mid-sole, so it acts well as a daily trail trainer. My wife bought me a Road ID pouch, which I keep on these shoes. The Road ID system provides the peace of mind that if something were to happen on a run, anyone providing assistance has access to my contact information and a brief medical history. Plus, the pouch is a convenient spot to keep a car key.
The New Balance M110
The New Balance M10

I wanted to get a trail shoe with less drop and a rock plate for more protection on technical trails. I have admired Anton Krupicka ever since I found a You Tube video of him using a steak knife to cut off the heels of his running shoes. He worked with his sponsor, New Balance, to develop a light-weight trail racer with only 4mm of drop, the M110. I bought this shoe for the American Canyon 15K and I absolutely love it. The toe box provides enough room for the toes to splay out, the rock plate protects against sharp rocks, but the shoe has a slipper-like feel and provides excellent proprioception. This is another shoe that has earned a permanent spot in the quiver.

I love the minimus feel so much, I bought the New Balance M10 for road training. I use the M10 for my speed work sessions, mostly fartleks and some mid-distance tempo runs. Both minimus shoes help with promoting a mid-to-fore-foot strike, which is something I focus on in every run to continue strengthening my lower leg and utilizing the natural shock absorption to be gained with such a stride. I cannot do too many miles in the 4mm drop shoes or my legs feel pretty torn up the next day, but I am building mileage in them as my fitness allows.

The New Balance 1080V2
To further the transition to lower drop shoes, my newest acquisition is the New Balance 1080V2. I am excited about this cushioned daily trainer because it has 35% less drop than the Wave Rider or Vomero. At 8mm, I hope it becomes my cushioned long run shoe while still promoting the foot strike I am striving for.

I will provide a full review after I put a hundred miles on them, but my hopes are high for this shoe. Plus, it came in orange, which will make it a good shoe for the Giant's Half Marathon in September (the race finishes on the baseball field at AT&T Park), which I am using as a supported training run.
The Vibram Five Fingers Kimodo LS
Finally, I have the Vibram Five Fingers Kimodo LS. This shoe (if you could call it a shoe) was one of the first barefoot trail running shoes available. I do not log many miles in these, 3-5 miles a week, but it provides so many benefits. Any niggles, aches or pains I may be feeling in my calves, ankles or feet magically disappear after a session running in the grass with these shoes. I feel they are the best feet-strengthening shoe in my growing arsenal, and I wear them while performing form drills in the park near my training grounds along the San Francisco Bay Trail in Richmond.

I am far from showing up such a shoe collector as Imelda Marcos, but at eight active pairs of running shoes, I have more than doubled my total shoe count in the past year. Having such a variety at my disposal has allowed me to keep my lower legs strong and adaptable.

Friday, July 27, 2012

When Shin Splints Become Stress Fractures

2 miles to go in the Davis Stampede 10K
I entered the 2011 racing season with determination. I felt that if I trained my still-adapting body to run faster, I could compete for a top three spot in the 30-39 age group. At 39 years old, I had lost 40 pounds by running and watching how much I ate, and my motivations had morphed from running to lose weight, to losing weight to run faster! I ran my first 10K, the Davis Stampede (a nice flat course) for my 39th birthday and achieved my goal of going sub-50 minutes (48:28, 7:49/mile pace). Unfortunately, my new found enthusiasm led to over training early in the spring, and my race times year over year did not show much improvement.

The first race of the Gold Country Grand Prix is the Penn Valley Daffodil Run, a 5K/10K/Walk to raise money for local schools and to beautify the neighborhood by planting daffodil bulbs. In 2010, I ran the 5K in 25:56 (8:22/mile pace). After working hard all winter, I ran the 2011 5K in 26:09 (8:26/mile pace). As a novice, I thought this meant I needed to train harder. A month later, I ran the Run For The Community 5K, which helps a local church "serve extreme community needs". Again, my pace went from 8:06/mile in 2010, to 8:10/mile in 2011.

I consider myself to be a thorough researcher. In my three years of running, I have devoured dozens and dozens of books on running, from technique to memoir. I have tried to find as much information on the pursuit as possible. Somehow, I had overlooked the often mentioned 'overtraining' phenomenon, which led me to train even harder in search of more speed! I was still placing in my age group, and receiving medals for my efforts, but the improvement I desired was not materializing, which frustrated me to the point that I considered giving up running all together. "You don't have the best body for a runner, you know" my father said to me one afternoon. Having run marathons in middle age, his opinion was one I respected, and he supported my running then as he does now, but his words only made me want to work harder.

Then, after a ten mile trail run, my training plan called for 5 strides of 150 yards. My left shin and soleus muscle had been experiencing some pain in the preceding weeks, but I had determined that it was a case of shin splints, and figured I could train through it. By the time I was on my last stride drill, I could hardly walk! My goal race, the Bear River 5K (benefiting the Bear River High School cross country team) was only three weeks away, and I had come up lame! I attempted a run here and there over the next two weeks, but the pain in my shin would not recede while running, a sign that it was more serious than shin splints. I bought a neoprene calf sleeve and hoped for the best. I showed up for the race with barely 3 miles run in the previous 3 weeks.

My shin did not hurt as bad while I warmed up, and I figured that if I was going to have to take some time off and give up all my aerobic fitness, then I was going to give it my all during the race. At the start, I latched on to a friend who I knew was faster than me, and held on to his pace for two miles before saying "you're killing me!" and falling back slowly. Going out so fast spent most of my energy; I even walked up the last hill, but still set a PR (22:51, 7:22/mile pace) by over 90 seconds! The pain in my shin paled in comparison to my joy at having finally showed such improvement, and the three week break caused by my injury turned out to be just the taper my body needed. I did notice that my heart rate for the race was a bit too high, and it caused me to begin thinking about how I could better train for cardiovascular efficiency.

Unfortunately, a trip to the doctor, x-rays and an MRI ultimately led to the diagnosis that I had two stress fractures in my tibia, and running was taken away from me for the next three months. Even walking the races was out of the question until I could hop on my left leg - a test I could not complete until the end of fall. Not being able to run caused me to become depressed, and I looked at other runners with a longing which surprised me. In my heart, I finally felt that running had become part of who I am.

Once walking and easy running was possible, I participated in the series-ending fall races with my wife, who surprised me by running much more of them than she intended, although the running bug has never bitten her, especially not like it has consumed me. I finished the Grand Prix in fifth place for men 30-39, despite my injury.

By the end of 2011, I had begun a new training plan based on heart rate and time, not mileage (Total Heart Rate Training). As I rehabbed my leg, I spent a lot of time at the gym working on the new heart rate workouts without running. Focusing on heart rate instead of pace, I have found that I can better avoid over training by alternating hard and easy days, and ensure that I have easy weeks thrown in to allow for adequate recovery. My 2012 goals were to race the Grand Prix 10K races, break my PR at the Bear River 5K, complete a 15K trail race on my 40th birthday, and run the CIM Marathon in Sacramento.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Gold Country Grand Prix

My first race, the 2009 Turkey Trot 5K
I trained hard through the Turkey Trot 5K in 2009. It is the last race of the year for the Gold Country Grand Prix, a ten race series in Nevada County hosted by the Sierra Trailblazers Running Club, located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I finished the race under 29 minutes, and was hooked! My goal for 2010 was to place in the top three overall in my age group in the Grand Prix. The point structure, which gave 10 points to the winner, 7 to second, 5 to third, 4 to fourth and 3 to fifth place, with one point awarded to all other finishers, would award consistency, and if previous years' season end point totals were an indicator, I could get a top three with consistent fifth place finishes in the 30-39 age group.

 A mix of road and cross country 5K/10K, spaced about a month apart from April to November, the Grand Prix takes the runner from rolling farmland and river canyons, to high school cross country courses and quaint mountain town road races. As a new runner, I did not realize that so much variation in terrain makes it difficult to compare performances based on time. Nor did I know that to deliver the best performance in a given race a runner should train on similar terrain.

What I did know was that I was having a blast! Running was paying dividends so much larger than I had expected. My training runs were mostly unoccupied roads winding through the forest. I used the local high school track for some workouts, especially when the roads were too messy (although I have overcome any aversion to bad weather or conditions, as Bill Bowerman said, "there is no such thing as bad weather, just soft people"). Running became a surreal period of time. My mind would be freed of all the shackles of daily concerns and distractions. A clarity of thought combined with the focus of how my body was moving and moving with intention, provided a meditative state which became addicting. At first the races were an intimidating contrast to training; running off a starting line with dozens, or hundreds (or thousands) of people is like being herded, and the more people, the longer it lasts. Once the crowd thins, however, running on a race course becomes a unique social experiment. The people you come across all share the burden of the experience, and this common ground is a great equalizer. The community stretches far beyond the race course.

I experimented with various training plans as the 5K races came and went over the first half of the year, but eventually became preoccupied with life at the expense of participating in racing. I kept running, however, and ended 2010 in seventh place for Men 30-39 with a newfound sense of competitiveness I did not anticipate. My original intention was to be a "completer, not a competer", but my goal for 2011 ended up focusing on running all ten Grand Prix events again. The 30-39 age group had a deep field of fast runners, some of whom actually won the races outright, so placing in the top three overall was not in my reach, but placing in the top three at any given race was still possible, and I hoped to get as much hardware (i.e. age group medals) as I could. So I trained harder...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Gotta start somewhere...

"Before", taken in 2009 (I'm on the left)
Three years ago, my wife looked at me with concern in her eyes and voiced (again) her opinion that I needed to reverse the slide towards obesity that I had been riding in the three years since our wedding. I had successfully lost 40 pounds in preparation for our nuptials by spending 2-3 hours at the gym five days a week, mindlessly spinning, trudging on an elliptical and weight training while watching basic cable or listening to an mp3 player.  We honeymooned in Greece, and I developed a soft spot in my belly for moussaka. I went from 180 lbs before the ceremony to 195 lbs by the end of the honeymoon, six weeks later. I did not return to the gym, and despite some active pursuits such as skiing/snowboarding and whitewater rafting, by Labor Day 2009 my weight had blossomed to 235 lbs, a body mass index of 30.2! I agreed with her assessment that something needed to be done. I was officially obese.

Returning to the gym and commiting 10-15 hours a week did not sound appealing. What could I do to increase my fitness which would not require a gym membership and umpteen hours a week to be effective? Despite abhorring running in school, I decided that for the cost of a pair of running shoes, I could be out my front door and back in 30 minutes a day, three days a week. Much more attractive. I picked the "Couch to 5K" training plan and signed up for the Thanksgiving 5K in Grass Valley, CA. The Turkey Trot.

I credit the C25K training program with providing me a solid foundation that enabled me to ease into the activity. I worried about form and injury, as I had ACL replacement surgery in my late twenties. I read "Master the Art of Running" by Malcolm Balk and Andrew Shields, which helped me focus on posture and ridding my body of tension. I bought proper running shoes after putting 30 miles on the cheap pair of tennis shoes I had begun running in. Before I knew it, I was logging my miles with the Nike+ system and shopping for gadgets, gear and clothing like a man obsessed. If Runner's World thought it was cool, I wanted to try it (so much for running being more affordable!)

Today, my weight is stable (180-185 lbs), I run an average of one race per month (I even have some age group medals), and I am trying to figure out how far I can push my body to run in one sitting. I volunteered at the Dipsea and Western States races this year, and I have been able to increase my race distances. Last weekend I passed two milestones as a runner. I ran my 2000th mile on Saturday (since I began Labor Day 2009), and logged the most volume in one week, 54 miles. This fall, I will participate in two half marathons, one road marathon and a trail ultra-marathon. I guess this running thing and I get along :)