Running with music (one time exception)

To be true, I don't like running with music for a long list of reasons, one of them and maybe the most important one is traffic security. But today I decided to give it a try as I really needed some extra motivation: I got a soar calf during today's 6 miler and I really didn't felt like running 17 miles in pain. So that I decided to do the long run as an extra long recovery run and to keep myself distracted I took my Sansa unit. As I didn't have to cross any roads there is no problem with traffic either.

Here is a sample of my playlist: Morbid Angel, Claw, Grave Wax, Bathory, Mayhem, Watain, Electric Wizard and Thergoton... sounds good eh?

Problem #1: Throwing the horns and the invisible orange running is not easy. No way... but mates, I'm 100% Trve and I can't avoid it! The experience of listening to Urgehal and Taake while running through the woods was actually rather weird.

Well, it wasn't actually that bad. I managed to keep the pace exactly at 9:00 as intended and at the end my calf feels actually way better. Awesome.

Well, anyway, I will not repeat the experience anytime soon as I really prefer to pay attention to my surroundings, even if the only thing I hear is the noise of traffic.


Nutrition Trackers: Finally the Right One(TM)!!!

I have finally found the perfect nutrition tracker that will allow me to substitute my dare old FitDay 1.x

Not that this one is bad, it is a very good piece of software. The drawback is that it is Windows based and while it is running smoothly the virtual PC software does have an influence on the rest of the applications and it requires to be stopped before shutting down the  machine.

The act that I had not migrated yet was that I have data on this program since 2008 and a huge amount of recipes and custom food.

The application I am talking about is CRON-O-Meter and it has all what you need to track your calorie intake and nutrition with the added boons of running on the browser so that I can just add it to the startup tabs with Runninghead and this blog.

As a tool for sporters more interested in the nutrition itself than in loosing weight this tool offers many benefits as detailed tracking of macronutrientes including such things as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and micronutrients... and aminoacids (!) an extremely valuable feature for us vegetarians.

Another interesting feature is that the measures are in grams, including the amount in imperial units too, so that you don't even have to calculate: If you want an ounce you can see the amount in grams directly visible in the drop down menu.

The serving type and weight is easy to customize, unlike many other applications. And the food database is humongous as it does not only include the standard USDA database and it's Canadian counterpart, but it also allows the users to share their recipes and custom food.

It is of course linked to Facebook and Google+

There is a free and a "gold" subscription. The free one has a limit of 7 days for most of the reports. This shouldn't be a problem if you export the data as CSV and import them into Openoffice Calc or MS Excel. But on the other hand a full year costs around 27 EUR (some 35 USD) and that is not much from any point of view, other products like Trainingpeaks are more expensive, do the same on regard of diet and are far more of a hassle to use despite integrating training and nutrition.


First 5 miler with Huaraches

Today I decided to give it a try and do my assigned 5 recovery miles  in huaraches.
It should be my first attempt at a serious distance in huaraches and in less than ideal conditions. I write this down mostly for my personal records and for anybody interested in knowing about the performance of the huaraches and the socks and also about a first experience in minimalist running from an average runner.


As a safety consideration I decided that I was going to stop at the very first signal that something was going wrong, such as pain or excess cold, walk back home and finish the day on the elliptical.

My previous experience on the trail was limited to two one-milers on the huaraches and ten minutes barefoot. Besides of running I do a lot of exercises that are either directly targeted at the toes and feet or recruit the muscles in them, and that since a lot of time ago, even before starting to run. I do also walk barefoot and in flip-flops a lot since I was a child. I have a Morton's Toe but I have never had any issue with that (more on that in another story).

I have always had a natural mid-foot strike and I have trained the fore-foot strike somewhat. I assume that my running form is good as I have had no injuries in more than a year. 

My gear was composed of three layers on the trunk: A sleeveless base layer, soft shell and a wind-proof jacked. Running gloves, beany and a motorcycle mask. I use the latter to cover my mouth and nose to pre-heat the air. It seems silly but it really works as it saves heat that can be pumped with the blood to other parts of your body.  

Concerns and conditions

  • Weather: -3C (26.6F), but sunny and no wind.
  • Route: My usual route goes through my street to the woods outside the town, the substrate is concrete, some asphalt and brick pavement inside the town and packed dirt and wood trail outside (the longest part). The route is largely covered in packed snow molten and frozen again to ice in an extremely irregular way due to traffic and footsteps. It had already proven to be extremely hard during my last (shod) trainings.
  • Shoes: One of the most interesting things to test was if the laces of my Invisibleshoes held for the whole run and if not how often I needed to re-lace them. Other points of interest were the grip of the sole to the road, specially the ice and if the soles protected my feet against the irregularities of the surface. 
  • Socks: I wanted to test if these Injinji socks where enough to keep my feet from freezing.
  • Legs and feet: I wanted to experience by myself a direct transition to minimalistic running keeping an eye on pain, stress, form, pace and all the other running related variables. 

Snow with footsteps molten by the sun and frozen again. This example is my backyard but it depicts the situation on the better parts of the route. On the streets this stuff is hard as stone.

The Run

The socks resulted to be clearly enough to keep my feet from freezing. I did in fact end the run with rather warm feet. I assume that the impact of the feet with the ground worked heating them up. I don't know the name of the effect but under cold conditions the body withdraws blood from the limbs to avoid wasting heat. When shod with normal trainers it takes me a few minutes to get my toes warm even with thick sheep-wool socks and despite all the shock absorbing rubber of the soles. I would say that running without socks wouldn't be an issue either.

The grip of the huaraches (the FeelTrue soles) was exceptionally good. It's true that I have developed a good form for running on ice and slippery surfaces but the feeling and technique is quite different than with normal trainers. With trainers the profile and hardness of the soles plays a big role and you have to adapt your form and style to the shoes; with trail running shoes you get more grip and with road running shoes you have to adopt a 'softer' landing and keeping a shorter mid-foot strike. I will come back to the form later, but I will confirm that the performance was exceptional. The internal contact surface did also provide a good adherence to my feet even with the socks. IMO this is an important plus of the design of the Contact soles compared to other solutions.

The 6mm soles proved enough to avoid pain from the rough and hard surface but allowing at the same time to feel the smallest changes. Note that I am not saying that the soles protected me by themselves, they are not meant for that; I was able to adapt my strike to the different obstacles or just jumping over them if required.

I was curious to know how long it would take for the laces to untie or loose tension. One of my intentions was to see how much it took to lace them again correctly. They did neither untie nor did they slip or loose any tension. Here I have say that I am glad to have chosen the Invisibleshoe huaraches instead of any others as anything but synthetic laces would have caused problems in this conditions.

As expected (and already tested earlier) there was no cushioning. I am not sure if I can say that "my feet knew what to do" as I always pay a lot of attention to what I do with my feet. I have read that the body itself adapts the strength of the strike automatically, as this is an unconscious arc-reflex I can't say, but I can confirm that I felt and feel no pain at all. I can feel some slight burn on some spots, exactly in the same way I experience after a strength workout, but not even the tension that I feel after running with some of my trainers.

With regard to pace, I was perfectly able to keep the same pace that I would have kept during a normal recovery run with an average of 8:27. I don't think that I should have any difficulty in running at a higher pace such as 8:00 at least under better conditions. Note again that the route is mostly trail, partly because it is actually trail and dirt road and partly because the snow has transformed the roads into an irregular ice surface more similar to running on rocks and rubble than on a proper road. 

Finally the most amazing part was the ability of adapting my strike instantaneously to the terrain: I have already stated that I am a mid-foot striker who uses neutral shoes. I do also train a forefoot strike and I often switch from one to the other. My favourite shoes are a pair of K-Swiss Natural Running II: what makes them different is that they have grooves running left to right on the sole under the toe box. This make them bendable and allows a better transition from mid-foot strike to forefoot strike. Making it possible to adopt the best strike and form on each part of the course.

The huaraches are however light years away: You are able to change the way of striking from step to step! This means that you can strike with your left forefoot and in the same step with your right mid-foot if required.
But that's is not all: It's in fact your entire foot which can change the way it lands on the ground. Including the frontal and lateral inclination and many other factors. It is just amazing how much control you have over your feet. Our hands and feet ave more nervous sensors than any other part of our body. In our hand this is quite obvious... and now I know what the ones on my feet are meant for.


I consider this test a complete success. Pete Pfizinger defined a recovery run as "A run that makes you feel more energetic while you are running it", I would say that this run perfectly fits into this description as I do feel energized and I did not have to use band-aids on my toes, black from my new pair of MR620. And there is of also the faces of the people which I met on the streets looking at my weird footwear ;)


New HR Max (needs confirmation)

It seems that my max HR is indeed way higher than the 185 I measured last year: The highest value measured yesterday during a lung-searing VO2max interval was 215.
I still have to make a couple more of test. Indeed I thought that there was a problem with my HRM (Garmin FR60). I noticed that when I started my trainings the HR went way above the expected values. But as I wasn't getting into oxygen debt or feeling any other symptom of an unusually hard workout I blamed my gadgets.
However, after 1.5 / 2 miles of running above 9:00 thre rate went down to "normal". My pace in warm wheater at 130-143 bpm (my old 70% HR reserve) was under 8:40.
I was actually so upset with the HRM that I have been running without it almost a week pacing myself with the GPS or just by feeling. During the Egmond Half Marathon I was consistantly getting high values too but I decided to just ignore them. I did a PR at 1:39:15 and I felt like having been able to press more...
If I can confirm the 215 bpm a lot of things would start to make sense. I am however afraid that the change could be related to the cold weather. In any case: As I am in the second mesocycle and speed and LT workouts are required I will be able to confirm the data.
Whoooo! I will maybe have to rethink my marathon goal of 3:30:00 !!


Modern Shoes are not made for walking (I)

Shoes were and still are a luxury article for a majority of the world's population. Until the 20th century and the advent of  mass production only the higher classes wore shoes such as we know them nowadays. The rest walked either barefoot or wore primitive footwear ranging from sandals / flip-flops to the Catalonian "Espardenyes" or Espadrilles. This footwear was the one used by the infantry of the XIII - XIX century.

You can read a brief overview of the history of shoes on this page http://www.shoeinfonet.com/. One thing that becomes obvious is the absence of heels on most of the earlier types, this includes the footwear used by the Greeks and Romans but also by modern running people like the Tarahumara or the African how walk and run mostly barefoot or in sandals or flip-flops.

Why is this important? Because it points to a enlightening fact: Modern western style shoes are not designed for walking.

While high heels in woman shoes developed from the platforms of clogs or geta that kept the feet of the peasants from the mud or the ones of the urban population away from the sewage. Their purpose was and is purely aesthetic.The heels on the majority of  modern footwear have however a design that is just perfect for another completely different purpose: Horse Riding!

Heels are ideal for riding with stirrups. A common gentleman's shoe like the ones in use from the XIX century onwards could be considered a general purpose design for riding and walking (horse-racing still requires proper specialized footwear).

The result of all of that is that in our daily lives we wear shoes meant for horse riding with an artificial curvature elevating your toes from the ground. The latter is meant to make it possible to actually walk with our rigid modern shoes. The fact that the soles are rigid is again a handy feature for passing your shoes through stirrups but that is neither required for walking nor is it necessary from the point of view of the materials used as it would have been perfectly possible to make flexible rubber or leather soles. 

The gentleman shoe was already standard when industrial production started in the last XIX and early XX century. During a part of this period it was still completely fit for purpose and as there were no mayor issues and nobody saw a reason to change it, it just continued this way until nowadays having been etched into our concept of how a show has to look like.

But the big problem, when it comes to specialty footwear such as running shoes, is that  they too have adopted a shoe designed for horse riding with a heel that was meant to keep the stirrups in place to running. 

The main reason for sport shoes having a heel is actually different and based on Bill Bovermann's idea that a heel strike would increase stride length and thus be more efficient for competition. But were it not for our general acceptance of shoes with heels we would have considered the early Nikes weird monstrosities.

Not only that: Many running shoes are not sold for running proper but as 'sneakers'; the new must-have fashion accessory where it does not matter if a shoe has been designed for running, basket or rope-jumping but what matters is that it looks flashy, has the swoop of a known brand and is known to be or looks expensive. Another huge segment buy running shoes believing hat they will be healthier than normal shoes; I personally know a lot of people who work standing long hours or even people with difficulties for walking who use running shoes.  I do not have figures on that, but you just need to read the reviews customers put in sites like Amazon or Sierra Trading Post, such as "go well with jeans", "I use them everyday at work". You normally get four or five of these reviews for each that reads "good on track" or "nice for shorter workouts".

The shoe companies will thus have a huge incentive for adding elements to their designs that potential customers can easily identify with the established concept of  how a "normal" shoe has to look like.

In fact what you can easily realise is that the whole industry including the sport sector is almost entirely fashion based and that little or no ergonomic engineering has really taken place in the sports shoe sector were the designs are just based on completely empirical thinking based on wrong concepts and fashion standards based on footwear designed for horse riding or utter non-sense like Boverman's heal strike.

But there is more and this I will cover in the second part of this series.