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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

On 12:08 PM by RunCast in    4 comments
Running the world's biggest six marathons

“You feel like a single cell of one huge organism consisting of 30 thousands similar running cells”
Photo: Bill Brine / Foter
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I don't think of running as grueling, I always found it easy. I love going outdoors, no matter the weather, checking the neighborhood, humming a tune in the rhythm of my steps, sometimes listening to the music, or more likely an audiobook, other times going "commando" (sans-music) and getting lost in thought. And no, running the same routes doesn't bore me either. Every day is different, even if the route is the same. There are different people—and some of the same ones too—walking different dogs, different squirrels (though I can't be absolutely certain of this, as I can't tell them apart other than by the color of their fur) rush up different trees... I don't get people who complain about running all the time, yet do it every day. It must be an extreme form of self-torture; how much energy do they spend only to get themselves out the door, before even making the first running step! I can't wait to go out, it's a highlight of my day. If I feel tired, I go slow. If it still doesn't feel as nice as I'd like, I cut it short. But, mostly it's a very enjoyable experience, never grueling.

Friday, August 22, 2014

On 12:37 PM by RunCast in    No comments
Weight loss and the role of portion size

No need to go to such extremes to lose weight
Photo: malias / Foter
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I feel elated and light like a feather. And no, it's not strictly metaphorical, other than the feather part, of course. Exactly three weeks ago I embarked on a weight loss crusade, joined by my wife Margo. The goal was the same for both of us—to shed 10 lbs. As you may have guessed by the opening sentence, we've accomplished it fairly easy in 21 days. Here's how it went.

First, a little background: we are both on the slim(ish) side, Margo is petite 5'4 and was 120 lbs to start, I am 6'1 and was 180 lbs. However, we both felt sluggish in our skins, heavy and devoid of energy. On top of that, I have developed a nagging back pain and Margo suffered upper back stiffness and neck pain. I don't believe the weight was the cause of our back problems, but it contributed to our feeling heavy and listless. After complaining about it for months, we finally decided to do something.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On 3:08 PM by RunCast in    2 comments
Where I’ve been and what I’ve done since the last RunCast

Photo credit: João Lavinha / Foter
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Every runner knows coming back after a long break is hard. Whether you were out with an injury, or life got in the way, starting the running over is a bitch! All the muscles that worked like parts of a perfect purring engine now misfire, hurt and misbehave. Although it takes less time to get where you once were, it takes more will power.

Something similar is happening with me now. And I’m NOT talking about running - I’m talking about runcasting. Or, rather, blogging.

For over a year since the last podcast I went through the phases. First it was fatigue with podcasting, then it was a withdrawal phase. When I was at peace with myself about not doing RunCast any longer, I started having ideas that would be just great for another episode, and had to fight myself to dismiss them. I consciously stopped checking the traffic report on the blog and updating twitter. But, the ideas, the thoughts wouldn’t leave me alone. So, I relapsed, and here I am doing it again. Please don’t judge me harshly.