Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Am I a minimalist?

Hello Runners!

I have a topic today which I'm sure is bound to ruffle a few feathers. I am not claiming to be a self proclaimed know it all on the topic of shoes or how they effect different body types and running styles. But one thing I do know as a runner, is you have to make your choices very carefully. I'm totally obsessed with shoes of all kinds, but especially runners. As a child I can remember my Mother commenting on Dad's shoe collection. "How many pairs of running shoes do you need? You just bought a pair last week!" She'd say. I remember thinking the same thing. Now I totally get it. He bought a pair of distance trainers last week but this week was in need of some light weight track shoes! I am a runner that believes that for every type of running you need a different type of shoe. Manufacturers put in a lot of time and money to make sure that their products are giving the athletes every possible advantage by using them. So for the distance runner trying to go farther they put some more cushioning underfoot to make that easier. For the 100m sprinter trying to shave that 100th of a second off, they make the shoe lighter and more responsive. They've also pretty much thought of everything else in between.

There are two extremes of this spectrum that I would like to discuss. First being the minimalist shoe, Vibram's Five Finger,Vivo, Terra Plana, Nike Free and Aqua socks are all examples of commonly used minimalist shoes. The idea behind these shoes of course is to duplicate the natural position and articulation of the naked foot. There are also a breed of runners out there doing it in bare feet alone. If you ask me, the barefoot thing has its pro's: better feel, it's natural, more efficient, it was the way we were born etc etc etc, But how many times do you have to cut, stub, grind your feet before you've got a callus big enough to
endure this sport? Not to mention glass and hypodermic needles. Therefor for wimps like me, (if I were to take it this far) shoe manufacturers invented the minimalist shoes as mentioned above. I've heard lots of great feedback about these types of shoes, but have yet to try a pair. I am not a skeptic, but I have gone so far in the last two and a half years as to not go crazy on my skis, skateboard and mountain bike as so not to injure myself. Why would I risk the chance of blowing my calf or Achilles for a revolutionary shoe/technique craze? The main argument is efficiency. The first time in which I heard anything of barefoot running was from the Kenyans. I read an article about how they trained on grass in bare feet and how much more efficient their running technique was because of it. When you remove the barriers of padding in shoes that regularly protect our feet from the ground, you are forced onto the balls of your feet. This causes your Achilles and calf muscle to work harder to absorb the shock. The
amount of time taken for someone to roll from their heel to their toe is fractionally greater than if they were striking with their mid to forefoot. Although more efficient, an increased workload will
inherently increase the potential of an injury if the workload is increased too rapidly. An example of this is here: A year and a half ago I purchased some track spikes unknowingly from a shop because they were getting rid of them dirt cheap. I ended up in a full on sprinting spike that was a full size too big. I was so excited I brought them right to the track. I ripped around a few times and could reall
y notice a
huge difference in the way the shoes were begging me to run. It felt at the time very awkward as if I were running on my toes. The next day My calves and Achilles were so tight I couldn't run for two days. This goes to show that things like this take time to ease into. Since then I have progressively focused on refining my technique and slowly easing myself into lighter and flatter shoes. I started out using a lightweight trainer for my shorter speed workouts. This was just enough for me to practice running more on the balls of my feet and to slowly build my Achilles and calf so they could grow into this new action. I also practiced cadence work on the track and treadmill to experiment where my body felt most comfortable at different stride lengths and speeds. I currently am racing half marathons in the second lightest racing flat on the market and looking at upgrading to the lightest which will have to be ordered in from Japan. I enjoy the feeling I get when I run in these shoes. I feel
a connection and response from the road when I'm laced into my racing flats. Its almost better than my new spikes for the track.

Up to this summer I enjoyed wearing a cushioned distance shoe from Adidas. The Supernova Glide. I enjoyed this shoe because I was able to go the distance and still have a
decent performance out of them. I have been doing a lot of shorter distance speed training this year which has really refined my technique and made it more efficient. This has also made this distance shoe feel awkward underfoot and quite sloppy. I feel myself going from my light shoes and running on my forefoot, to my padded shoes and being forced into my old running style of heel striking. This does not feel good at all and makes for an uncomfortable distance run. I have recently tried on a lot of different types of shoes at two local running stores and have come to the decision of choosing a light weight trainer for my long runs. My new Distance trainer will be the Asics DS Sky Speed. It felt perfect when I tried it on, which is usually a good sign. I always enjoy shopping
at Forerunners because of their knowledgeable staff and their unparalleled selection but they also let you run the shoes up the sidewalk and back. It helps me decide easier when I know what the shoe will do on a run. 100m is a great way to get into your stride and really feel the shoe out before making your purchase. Be sure to mimic the technique you will use in your runs. (ex. if it's an interval shoe, try some strides, if its your distance shoe, pretend you're running your long run when trying them on)

I am briefly going to touch on the other extreme of this shoe spectrum. My head is just spinning after researching so many different sources about this topic. It seems to be getting quite a lot of press recently and I guess that is why it sparked my interest. I've discussed the different types of Minimalist shoes and their benefits and potential hazards. Now I'll quickly discuss structured and cushioned shoes. These shoes have been designed by shoe companies with the customers comfort in mind. Over the years shoe companies have experimented with all kinds of different materials and layouts for making their shoes more comfortable. They have used; foams of different densities, hexagonal patterns, shox, gels, Waves, padding and rubbers to displace our weight and make for a low impact experience. This is all fine and dandy and we appreciate the care that they've taken, but has all this come at a cost?? Recent studies have shown that severely padded shoes may actually hinder the body's natural ability to absorb shock and increase the risk of injuries to the knees and lower back. In any case, this whole topic could be disputed until I am blue in the face! Pro's of cushioned shoes; they are comfortable, help soften the longer distances are good for heavier runners and beginners. Cons; They force a heel strike or an un-natural foot strike, are heavier, less efficient.

The truth of the whole matter is this and may it also be the conclusion of this blog entry, no matter what kind of running technique you currently have you must be completely conscious of the changes that need to take place when you are slimming down your shoe padding and changing your technique. There are different strengthening exercises which must be done before changing techniques to ensure an injury free transition. These changes must be done gradually. Listen to your body and research proper running techniques. I would be happy to consult with anyone one on one about proper running techniques and injury prevention for runners. If you are making the switch to minimalist shoes or even barefoot running consider the risks and benefits, and whether or not you even need explore this new trend before fully submersing yourself into the new culture. (or ancient culture considering where we all started off) As for myself, I am happy with the new speed found in my new forefoot running technique. I look forward to further refining it and balancing out the muscles in my legs for an injury free fall. I have noticed the my inner quads have become weaker than my outer ones due to an added bike workload. I must return to the gym to balance them out as to prevent any knee issues during my increased marathon training. Stay tuned for My Race report from the Squamish Days 10k. I haven't got time today as I'm racing 1500m at Swangard tonight, But will have it out by noon tomorrow. Thanks for reading.
Happy training!

Things I hate: Doubting myself
Things I love: Believing in myself

1 comment:

  1. Those are great shoes, I think I can have one of those shoes for my coming long run.

    brooks beast