Posts Tagged ‘barefoot running’

Small Changes Keep You Healthy

A detailed training log for the week is here.

Running seems so simple, and I guess it can be. Just lace up your shoes, or not, if you’re the barefoot type, and head out the door.

One danger we face, however, is running the same mileage and pace over the same surfaces while wearing the same shoes. Just so we can cross the workout off of the ‘must-do’ list.

Pretty. But not what I want to face everyday.

I live in suburban San Jose, Costa Rica and there isn’t a single road in my immediate neighborhood that stretches more than about three quarters of a mile before turning into a giant hill or series of hills, that don’t necessarily lend themselves to fulfilling every day’s training plan.

While I appreciate the benefits of running rolling hills, it’s not something I want to do on every run. So I run only the (relatively) flat sections of my local neighborhood, basically making a turn anytime I come to the foot of a hill that’s large enough to represent a significant change in the training stimulus.

The risk I run (no pun intended) with this technique is traveling over the exact same portion of road and running surface on every run, every week.  The body needs different stimulus in order to adapt, recover and grow stronger. Running over different surfaces and in different shoes causes slight changes in which muscles, tendons and ligaments are stressed and by how much. All of these tiny variables contribute to fitness.  Never change the input variables and your body will likely respond via fatigue at one end of the spectrum and overuse injuries at the other end.

To keep my legs fresh and confused I like to mix things up ever so slightly.  I rotate among three to four different pairs of shoes, ranging from a fairly neutral trainer to an extreme minimalist flat. Each day that I run I alternate the direction from which I leave my home, allowing me to cover the same local loop but covering the crests, ridges, potholes and crowns from a different angle. During any single run I will also move to the center of the road, whenever safe to do so, so I have a flatter surface beneath my feet, and I also move off into the grass for about 1/8 of a mile each time I pass a local park.

As far as pace and strength are concerned, once a week I run a series of hill sprints after an easy paced run, and on other days I add fartleks into the mix. Each fartlek I run is on a different section of the road or grass: some on flat stretches, and others may be either ascending or descending ever so slightly.

While seemingly insignificant during the actual run, over time these small variables can make a big difference in our fitness, performance and injury prevention.  Not to mention, if you’re limited by your local geography in regards to running terrain these small changes can keep you feeling mentally fresh as well.

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Patience, Day 1

Let me start by saying that I realize many people are suffering and enduring circumstances far worse than I can probably imagine.  Even within my extended family there are crises in progress that far outweigh in importance the petty and self-indulgent complaining in which I am about the begin. Having said that, this is my blog and it’s officially time to schedule a little self pity.

Yesterday, while out on a 5k run my right Achilles tendon began to tighten and become stiff and painful. I debated the wisdom of continuing as the pain became progressively worse and ultimately decided to walk the final half mile home. By the time I reached my front door there was no debating the fact that I was injured, and climbing the stairs to shower proved quite difficult.

 Let’s backtrack twenty or so years ago to explain why this seemingly tedious injury is bothering me so much.

 I served briefly in the U.S. military and was exposed to running on a routine basis for the first time. I played baseball and a little soccer in my youth but never had I run six days a week, every week.  During this training my 2 mile run times were sub 12:30 and I even managed to once rocket through a 1 mile session in less than 5:30. These aren’t impressive times by any real runner’s standards, I know. But they were my pinnacle, and was, and am, proud of them.

 After exiting military service I was sporadic with my fitness attempts. A few months of weight training here and there. Several months of martial arts training. And attempts to run that would inevitably lead to knee pain and swelling so severe that within a few weeks I was hobbled. This cycle of nonsense carried on for more years than I care to admit or contemplate.

 For just over a decade, every attempt I made to include running as part of my fitness regimen ended with injury or pain that I was unable to endure, compensate for, or eliminate.

 Approximately four months ago I began researching online information regarding common running injuries, their causes, remedies and of course, how to avoid them in the first place. This lead me to Christopher McDougall’s national bestseller, Born to Run, which in turn enticed me to read several articles by Dr. Lieberman of Harvard University regarding studies that compared traditional heel strikers to those runners who made contact with their mid foot or the balls of their feet. Once this trickle of information began to seep in, the floodgates opened and I was researching everything I could about natural running, barefoot running, minimalist running, Danny Dreyer’s Chi running and Dr. Romanov’s POSE Method.

 I began very conservatively by walking barefoot on a treadmill for 30 minutes, three times per week. After two weeks, I transitioned to a barefoot, walk-jog session on the treadmill for 30 minutes in duration, three times per week. After two weeks I began running barefoot on the treadmill three times per week, building my aerobic capacity, as well as my foot, ankle and tendon strength to a level in which I could sustain 30 minutes of continuous running.

 Feeling confident, I began a commonly referred to Couch to 5k training regimen on the treadmill. It wasn’t as easy as pie, but my preparation made it manageable and I felt no pain or discomfort while running. Only the normal post work out soreness of muscles and lactic acid.

 Inspired by my progress I moved on to a 10k training plan designed by the same company and also moved one of my weekly runs to the roads. I was aware that the impact and forces of road running would be significantly different than the treadmill, and had no intention of pushing the envelope in regards to injury.

 Yesterday was Day 1 of the fourth week of 10k training.  I had completed an 8k run on Monday and yesterday was to be a slow, comfortable 5k recovery run. I was also going to begin running two sessions per week on the road.  My Achilles disagreed.

 So now I am sidelined. In no man’s land. Waiting. Brooding. Sulking. Thinking. Analyzing. Asking questions. Did this happen because:

  • Every route I run outdoors has numerous hills, over taxing my Achilles?
  • Am I over pronating and causing excessive torque on my Achilles?
  • Are my calves severely tight and stretching my Achilles unnecessarily?
  • Am I landing properly or too much on the balls of my feet, adding undue stress?
  • Am I running too fast? (highly unlikely)
  • Are my joints and tendons simply responding to an accumulated work load to which they are unaccustomed?

So many variables. So many possibilities. And with only my limited abilities at self perception available to offer feedback during training sessions my fear is that I will begin a new cycle of injuries and ailments. Maybe no longer my knees, but simply a migration to a neighboring joint, tendon or socket of anatomical and bio-mechanical failures.

 Today is Day 1 of recovery.

 RICE. Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation.

 Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

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