Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On 6:00 AM by RunCast in    No comments

Photo credit: San Diego Shooter / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

The idea for this post came from the blog titled "Is There a Non-Creepy Way to Run Behind a Woman?" The author Christian Coleman, as he describes in his article, is a young black man, 6-foot-tall and fit. One day he went for a run and along his usual route he came behind a white female runner. His average pace was faster than hers, and she seemed to run on his regular path, which created a conundrum for Coleman: if he continued his own pace, soon he would be right behind her, and maybe she'd feel threatened or scared. If he slowed down to her pace and she noticed him, she could equally feel that he is following her. What was he to do?

He decided to speed up and cross the street, so he caught up with the woman at opposite sides of an intersection and she just gave him a friendly wave as to a fellow runner. He wonders what may have happened if he caught up with her at her side of the street, and if she would have felt uneasy.

It's a fair question -- how is a guy to run behind a woman without scaring her? I never gave it much thought myself, but again I live and run in a low-crime area, and I don't think women around here feel especially threatened by running men. In Coleman's article is a reference to another story, written by a white female runner Karen Cordano. Her experience is actually quite scary. Going for a Sunday morning run she passed by a man on a bicycle and gave him a friendly wave, as she does to almost everybody she passes during the run. A short while later, the same man, a fit, tall, white guy, suddenly appeared to run alongside her. He didn't talk, and the longer he hung by her side the more freaked out she got. Finally, she did a u-turn and ran away from him, shaken and scared.

That brings us back to the question -- is there a nice way to run behind a woman? I pass by all kinds of runners, male and female; some are lost in thoughts, some pretend they don't see me, some glare at me as if I stole something theirs, but many others are friendly, smiling, waving. Overall, I'd say runners are the friendliest bunch you can pass on the street.

This summer on a few occasions I came across female runners, approaching them from behind. What I usually do in such cases is -- I don't change a thing in my running. If I'm going faster, I just keep going until I pass them. I do try to make more noise when I get close, to let them know I'm coming, and sometimes I'd speed up just to pass them faster, so they wouldn't think that I'm following them. When I'm passing them, I give them wider berth and usually wave and say something friendly and non-creepy, like "good pace" or "nice day for running", or even just "hi". It had never happened that they didn't smile or wave back, so I think I can pass as non-threatening runner.

Still, in running we should respect privacy distance. If coming onto a runner -- male or female -- from behind, make sure you don't run right onto their back, make yourself heard by making louder steps, or clearing throat or in any other way you can think of and once you're close to passing them, go wide to the side. If you happened to run the same pace as she does, talk to the her, make a friendly observation and if you notice that she feels uneasy, be a gentleman and change your route away from hers.

Monday, October 13, 2014

On 6:00 AM by RunCast in    No comments
Photo credit: Dafydd359 / Foter / CC BY-ND

As a tall and not particularly goodlooking male runner I was never concerned about my safety. It also helps to be a black belt in judo and a former champion familiar with self defense in a combat situation. But when my wife started running, I became aware of safety concerns every female runner must face. She is petite and, although I don't even want to think about it, she'd be an easy target for a large male attacker.

Nothing ever happened in our neighborhood, thankfully, but she told me on several occasions when she ran alone that some men were heckling her from the cars passing by, and in one instance even slowed to a crawl next to her and shouted something she ignored. Although we live in a really peaceful, friendly town, I worry about her out there by herself. Even more so if she runs in the dark. Most of the time I try to join her on the run, but there are times, especially during the training for a marathon, when she simply has to go out on her own. Then I try to follow her via RunKeeper Live and see her progress on the map. If she takes an unexpected turn, I would call her cell phone right away.

I recently came across a story of an Atlanta runner Elizabeth Kalife who was attacked during a mid-day run on a quiet residential street. The attacker grabbed and groped her, she started screaming and luckily he ran away. He was arrested and sent to jail. But she is never going to be able to run freely and alone, to enjoy her runs as she used to, as we all do. Now she runs always with a group, never alone, and carries with her a pepper-spray and a taser.

Self-defense websites and courses for female runners are many. The first lesson my old self-defense coach gave me was: "Avoid fighting at all costs. If you can run away, run! But, if you are attacked by a much larger and stronger opponent, you will only have a few seconds to disable him." By disable, he meant it literally -- I was supposed to harm the attacker so badly that he is incapable to continue attacking. The target areas were crotch, eyes, throat or nose, in that order of priority. "As soon as you hit him," the coach said, "run as fast as you can and scream for help. That's the real-life self-defense. The rest is Hollywood."

Unfortunately, very few of us are able to hit so hard or so precise. And you know what they say about an injured animal, how dangerous it is. So, instead of teaching my wife how to fight, we focused on prevention. She is a solitary runner and doesn't have a running buddy or a running group. So, when she runs on her own, she carries a whistle on a ring of her finger and runs on well lit, busy roads, on the sidewalk. She never approaches a car, even if it stops to ask her for directions, and if a car seems to block her path, she doubles back immediately. She avoids dark and deserted areas and if she runs with music, she wears "one good earbud" which is a single earphone that goes in one ear and combines two stereo channels into one.

She also signed up for Runkeeper Elite -- if you're not familiar with RunKeeper, it's a fitness-tracking web site and app for Apple and Android devices. The site is free, but also has a premium part. The elite subscription, which costs $20 per year, offers "live" option, which enables me to track her update live on the map. It shows where she is and how fast she goes, so I can call for help if I see anything suspicious.

I also tried Road ID app with a set of useful features. You can set the app to send a message if you stopped moving for a pre-assigned period of time. So if, say, you are stopped for 3 minutes, the app will immediately alert people who can help. You specify the recipients, and the app will send them an email, or an SMS, with the link to the map with your present coordinates. That's a great safety app to give you a peace of mind, but it's reactive, instead of pro active. Rather than having to use such app, or self defense, or taser, pepper spray and anything else, the best is to avoid getting in that situation if at all possible.

Austin Bonds of recently wrote safety tips for female runners. Here are some of the tips he outlined:

1. Avoid running alone when possible -- call a buddy, join a group, take the dog along, or, if all else fails, take hubby with you

2. Mix up the music with some meditation -- other than making sure you can hear the sounds from the surrounding, occasionally break the music with some quiet meditative sounds, or just pause the playlist altogether. While on the subject of music -- I am a big proponent of running with something to listen to, but I am strongly against the noise-canceling headphones. As annoying as it can be to have the wind blowing through your ears, and the loud trucks deafening your music, I suggest to choose earphones that don't seal off your hearing from the outside world.

3. Revise your routes -- mix them up, be unpredictable. If someone intends to stalk you, he won't be able guess where you are gong to run, and wait in an ambush.

4. Use your phone for more than status updates -- I already mentioned a couple of apps we use, but there are so many more. Do a research, connect yourself and your phone with people and services that can help keep you safe.

Finally, I'll repeat a few safety tips of my own:
- run in well lit, well-populated areas, the busier the better; try to run during the daylight whenever possible
- don't approach cars with people asking for directions; if a pedestrian tries to approach, keep a safe distance between you and him, and be ready to turn back if he comes to close. Never let him come to an arms-reach distance.
- get a whistle, it's the cheapest and simplest noise making device; it'll attract attention and distract the would-be attacker
- if you carry a pepper-spray or a taser, it's of no use if it's in your pocket or a pouch. You simply must carry it in your hand. If only a part of your route is deemed dangerous, then take the spray out of the pouch when you're approaching it. Don't count on being able to pull it out when you sense danger. Most of the victims don't have time to react.

Unfortunately, the world we live and run in could be a dangerous place, but I hope these tips will help you plan and have safe runs.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

On 6:00 AM by RunCast in    No comments
In the light of a recent strings of attacks on female runners in North America, we re-visit safety tips, from common precautions to phone apps, to help you keep out of harm's way. Also, is there a non-creepy way for a man to run behind a woman?

Photo credit: San Diego Shooter / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
The Road ID app
Attacked runner shares her story of survival
Tips on Running Safety For Women
OneGood Earbud
Is There a Non-Creepy Way to Run Behind a Woman?
Running While Female

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

On 6:00 AM by RunCast in    No comments

Photo credit: tfxc / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Recently, I came across a couple of interesting studies relevant to barefoot running. Before I get into details, I have to admit that I am not a barefoot runner. My whole life I have been walking and running in shoes. That said, I would try barefoot or minimalist running if an injury prevents me from running pain-free in shoes.

For those who bared their soles to the elements, I have encouraging news: there's a scientific evidence that you may run faster than you would in shoes.

An article on University of Portsmouth News web site talks about the research conducted by Kevin Reeves, a scientist from the University of Portsmouth. It states that barefoot runners can run faster and use less oxygen than shod runners.

The study was published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness and was conducted on eight male runners who ran on a treadmill and each completed one barefoot run and one run in shoes.

Reeves found that barefoot runners use their bodies more economically when running at higher speeds and they can also run faster than when wearing shoes.

"The results show that barefoot runners use oxygen more economically, which means they can run for longer – much like the fuel economy of a car" Reeves told the UofP News. He also said that runners can reach higher speeds because they have saved energy. High performance athletes, he says, can improve their performance by including barefoot running into their training.

While the study was primarily focused on economy of running with vs. running without shoes, the finding that runners could sustain higher speed for longer time when barefoot surprised the researchers. Reeves said he anticipated from studies at lower running intensities that running economy could be better when running barefoot, but was surprised by how much it influenced the speed of the runners.

It's too early to tell how or if this finding will affect the training of elite runners. Obviously, more research needs to be done.

Another study, reported in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal looked into hip kinematics in female runners. The motion of the hip joint is believed to cause the knee injury. The researchers analyzed 23 female runners who habitually run in shoes, by having them run on a treadmill in shoes and barefoot. They found out, unsurprisingly, that the women's foot-strike changed from primarily heel-striking while in shoes to forefoot-landing while barefoot.

Another change was with the length of the stride, which shortened when they were running barefoot. All that resulted in different angles of the body and the limbs, which reduced the motion of the hip joint and the impact on the lower limb, especially on the knee.

While the study doesn't specifically recommend going barefoot, it concludes that forefoot running may help prevent and treat knee injuries.

I found the reference and article about this research on web site written by Craig Payne. He raises a valid question about the study--where does the reduced force of impact go?

As we know from physics lessons, force doesn't vanish into nothing. Every time we reduce the force affecting us, we either transfer it somewhere else or absorb it in some way. While barefoot running modifies hip kinematics to lessen the impact on the knee, what happens with the ankle? Is the reduced impact on the knee joint balanced by increased impact on the ankle? This study doesn't have an answer to that question. In this case, just like in the previous study, more research is needed.

Obviously, there's proof that changes in the form and stride caused by ditching the shoes can affect your body in positive ways. By shortening your stride and changing your cadence it also makes your running more fuel-efficient so to speak, and enables you to maintain higher pace for longer time, which plainly means it can make you faster. Also, it reduces forces of impact on your knees, which may prevent or help treating knee injuries. But, as it seems is always the case with running, there are questions about the undocumented negative effects. Be tuned into your body and pay attention to those ankles and foot joints for a sign of increased wear and tear, if you decide to include barefoot running in your training.

A final word of caution -- if you are considering barefoot running, give yourself enough time to transition. You can't suddenly just kick off your shoes and start running without them; your feet, and the rest of the body will need time to adjust. Treat it as if you are absolute beginner just starting to run -- include very short barefoot stretches in your running training and gradually increase the barefoot part and decrease the shod part.

Monday, September 29, 2014

On 6:00 AM by RunCast in    No comments

Photo credit: mainerunningphotos / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

This topic hits very close to home. In the last 8 years since I started running races it seems that my time is getting gradually slower and my personal best is long forgotten in the past. I thought this was a natural progress, or rather regress of the aging body. The older we get, the slower we move, right? That stands true for life in general, as for running in particular. I blamed it on weakening muscles and longer recovery times, and I was partly right. But, it turns out there's something else happening that causes this slow-down process for runners.

In an article published in Competitor Running magazine, Pete Magill, the fastest-ever American at 5K and 10K for age group over 50, points out another reason we get slower: our stride! Or, rather, the length of it.

Since the age of 30, Magill writes, the length of our stride decreases by about 1% per year. The cadence, which is the frequency, or the number of steps per minute, stays the same. Master runners manage to preserve their optimal cadence into their 70s and 80s, but by then the length of their stride had decreased by about 40%.

That was a pretty shocking news to me. As soon as I read it, I pulled out my calculator. I will turn 50 next year, which means that my stride was shortening for the last 20 years. Since I didn't race all this time, let's be generous and say that it shortened by approximately 10% by now. My cadence is about 164 steps per minute and average stride is 1.2 meter long. How do I know it so precisely? Thanks to iSmoothRun app I'm using to track my runs--among other great things it does, it also gives me complete stats of my run, including these and many more details I never knew I would need.

But, back to my calculation: On a 10k run I would take approximately 8,300 steps. If my steps are 10% shorter than in my prime, that means on a 10k run I lost about 830 meters just on the stride length! Wow! Translated into time, I lost about 3.5 minutes of my 10k time. So, if I wanted to run 10k at the same speed I used to, I would need to take about 700 steps more and jam them in 3.5 minute less time!

Magill explains that most older runners try to compensate for the loss of the stride length by increasing the cadence, which results in funny quick-striding running form.

So, what are the reasons for stride shortening at aging runners? There are three, according to Magill:

1. Decreased muscle mass.
2. Decreased hip, knee, and ankle flexibility.
3. Decreased nervous system efficiency.

The inconvenient truth, to borrow the term from Al Gore's documentary, is that we begin to lose skeletal muscles since mid-20s. The fast-twitch muscle fiber responsible for speed and strength diminishes quickly, especially when it's not being used, while the slow-twitch fiber that bring us endurance declines much slower. But, like almost everything in life, there's something we can do about preserving the fast-twitch fiber. Pete Magill recommends a few workouts to counterbalance the effects of aging. They are hill sprints, lunge-clock and track workout.

Check the original article for detailed instructions on how to do it.

I would suggest even for those of you under 30, to include these exercises into your routine as well, to stave off this stride-shortening predicament.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

On 8:41 PM by RunCast in    No comments
As we age, our stride gets shorter; in this podcast you will find out why it's happening and what you can do to prevent it. Also, a look on two studies which found that barefoot running can prevent knee injuries and make you faster.

Photo credit: mainerunningphotos / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
Fast After 40: Master Your Stride
Barefoot runners go faster
“Barefoot Running and Hip Kinematics: Good News for the Knee?”; what about “Bad News for the Ankle”?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

On 9:58 AM by RunCast in    No comments
On smelly phenomenon wafting off your running shirt, snobriety and greedy paws of running industry. Plus a (very) short history lesson.

Photo credit: Aitor Escauriaza / Foter CC BY

Sunday, August 31, 2014

On 5:24 PM by RunCast in    No comments
Where I’ve been and what I’ve done since the last RunCast; Weight loss and the role of portion size

Photo: Kanaka Menehune / Foter
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial