Monthly Archives: October 2012

Chevy Tahoe or a Mini Cooper? A tip on running shoe selection.

You are about to leave your house and have the keys to both your cars in your hand. Which do you take?

Today, you have to drive through town town to get some groceries, and then to the mall. Its a slow drive on neighborhood streets to the freeway. Your SUV is comfortable, affords a good view of the road, and has lots of room for the stuff you are going to buy. Given the fact that SUV’s account for huge number of sales in the US, the public agrees this is a logical choice.

OK – its the weekend. You are going to flee the city and head up to the cabin. Its a really twisty backcountry mountain road. Turn after turn, its hard to even maintain the posted speed limit. Do you select the SUV that ensures you need to slow down due to body roll, or do you take the sports car? The sports car is lighter, lower, and has a firmer suspension. It was designed for these very conditions. While a stiffer suspension may be less comfortable driving through the burbs, the improved “road feel” you get with the sports car helps you drive better at speed through more challenging roads.


Time to go shoe shopping! You ask the salesman to pull two pairs of shoes for you. The first feels like a cloud at first step. It feels like you could stand around in them for hours. Your quick run test on the sidewalk in front the shop confirms that same cushy marshmallow feel during your run. Going back inside, you slip on shoe #2. It feels comfortable, but is much firmer. It didn’t grab you at first step as you walked around the store, but when you repeated your short demo run outside, it felt pretty much like the shoe wasn’t even there. The firmer feel felt a bit more responsive.

What running shoe should you buy?

Well, the marketing research is clear. People buy shoes b/c of 1) color, and 2) “first feel”. First feel is that first step you take. You know that sense of walking on a cloud…..the same feeling that made you think you could stand around in them for hours? Well, that doesn’t have anything to do with running shoe selection. Running is not standing. When you stand, you have half your body weight split between each foot. The total load on each each leg is about half your body weight. When you walk, sometimes you have two feet on the ground, and sometimes you have one foot down on the ground. So at the most, you’d have your full body weight on one leg, and at the least, it would be split between both legs. And when you are walking, your feet are on the ground for a long time. If you need to “micro-correct” your muscles to stabilize your body, you’ve got time to do so.

Running isn’t standing. And its not walking. During running, your foot is only on the ground for a very short time: The average runner moving at 7.2 mph is on the ground for only .17 seconds. Decisions on stability need to happen very very quickly, faster than you can actually think about them. And when running, there is no double leg contact. You are either sailing through the air, or in contact with a single leg. That single leg must not only support your full body weight, but about 2.5x’s your body weight.


So what “car” do you pick? Well, lets look at hundreds of research articles on foot and ankle balance. Almost every single article says that you have a harder time balancing and stabilizing when on a cushioned surface. On marshmallow-cushy surfaces, the muscles that control your foot and ankle kick on too late and not enough to keep things under control. So if you are going to rally around a twisty mountain mountain road, the stiffer suspension on the Mini Cooper gives you better traction and feel. When running, a firmer feeling shoe provides a stiffer surface for the muscles in your foot and ankle to support your body. Said very simply: the foot works better when on a firmer surface.

So do yourself a favor. Go to the store. Try on your shoes. Obviously you’ll stand, and then walk outside or over to the treadmill. But resist the urge to make an impression on the shoe until you are actually running. Of course you should buy a pair that feels comfortable! But most of us are in shoes too soft and squishy to be running fast. Pick the right car for your drive, and the right shoe for your run. Running comfort, not walking comfort, should be key.


Is Poor Posture Stealing Your Power?

Are your shoulders slumped? Both Mom and your favorite drill sergeant don’t take kindly to poor posture. Outside of looks and respect, posture has a huge effect on your running form. If you ‘d like to know how it impacts you as a runner, and how you can fix it,  check out my article in this month’s October edition of Running Times – on news stands, or click here to view it now. Now stand up straight!

DOPESTRONG: Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

The blog began to help YOU. Today, we are going on a small tangent, to help US. Unless you’ve been vacationing on a deserted island, you’ve likely heard news that’s gotten more coverage than the debates: Lance cheated. DOPESTRONG is born. Unless you believe in the tooth fairy, you likely didn’t get any news you weren’t expecting. In fact, who really cares. These are AMAZING atheltes, who train VERY hard. And the drugs they took allowed them to go “X”% faster. So what? I think its safe to say that the entire peleton was doping as well. The playing field was essentially level. You still got to see a good race. The race you were hoping for. In fact, while we are at it, let’s go ahead and encourage the use of performance enhancing drugs. In the spirit of competition, let’s ensure everyone has access to anything and everything they need to succeed at all costs. Who cares if some of them die along the way due to side effects, as long as we all see a good show. In fact, maybe it would make things more fair if we just had the all drug olympics. (so worth watching this!)

Let’s take a step back. its not fair for anyone to point fingers at Lance until we have a little chat. Lance didn’t cheat by himself, neither did the other cyclists who recently came forward as part of the USADA investigation. Neither did all the other cyclists, runners, baseball players, football players, swimmers, etc who have gotten busted for banned substances. They had motivation, and help to stay on their chosen path: cheating.

20121013-225147.jpgMy cousin, and former elite cyclist, wrote an excellent perspective on this: “Lance is rich, but Phil Knight is richer.” Let’s be clear here. We’ve created a society where you are rewarded for all the hard work you’ve put in to stand atop the podium, knock one out of the park, or place a superbowl ring around your finger. This desire for excellence is exactly what makes sport, well, sport. There are vast lessons to be learned by committing yourself to achieve excellence on ANY level – whether it be your first marathon or your first international podium. In fact, I don think there is any more noble calling than to push your body as far as you can. I trained and competed for years, and dedicated my career towards helping others acheive their personal best in their athletic pursuits.

We also live in a society where people want money. We don’t get paid for showing up, we get paid when we win. Most professional endurance sport athletes make far less then you think – perhaps 20-30K a year. Pro women typically make much less. But if they get a big break, they might get a huge bonus to pay for travel to races, pull themselves out of debt, buy a new car, or send money back to provide a home for their family. When you stare at the podium or your bank account, you know that there is one specific decision you have the power to make that will improve both: cheating.

And you’ll have support, and even praise for this decision. Your sponsors will be singing your praises as you help market their products with the best form of marketing known to man: winning. They’ll shower you with money. You’ll be on magazine covers. You’ll be the focus of a parade. You’ll be on Letterman. No sponsors are going to stop you here. You are the showpiece.

And you may think that its limited to the sponsors. Sorry. Its deeper than that. Look at the statement by USADA and you’ll see there are some issues that intimately link USA Cycling into the doping ring. And cycling isn’t alone. At our annual Running Medicine Conference, we had the USADA come in and give us a talk on testing and screening of athletes. In their presentation 5 years ago, USADA described a situation where USA Track and Field submitted 12 samples to the USADA for testing. When 10 out of 12 samples came back positive, USADA asked for the names of those positive samples. Apparently, the tubes got “mis-marked” and the names were never revealed. Let’s look at this this way. When you have the sport’s national governing body, coaches, and the athletes all wrapped up in the same decision to win-at-all-costs, its clear that doping became the norm, not the exception.

So when you say to yourself “how can all this be happening?” Remember that we are all part of the problem. We need to establish limits. Where does an aid become illegal. Is it when its injected? Obviously taking substances that have been identified as “performance enhancing” and on the banned substance list is illegal. Its “unfair” that this sector of athletes has access to these substances. But let’s make the call here. What else is unfair? The benefits of altitutde training programs are undisputed. Is it unfair that one rider can afford to “live high and train low” while his arch rival is living at sea level and holding down a full time job? Some of you may think that this is an odd comparison, that altitude doesn’t play a role in many athletes training. Well, look at it this way – almost everyone reading this likely knows an athlete who has an altitude tent. That costs money. Is it fair that some athletes have money to help buy a tent to help their training while others don’t? How far can we allow things to go before the playing field is level? In my article, an Upgrade for our Bodies, I talk about the future role of technology in performance. Gene manipulation anyone? Performance enhancing surgeries? We are going to have to make a clear distinction between using technology for good vs. using technology for evil.

And we are going to have to have some type of collective pledge to bind our athletes to the “right thing” and focus our efforts. Back in my sports psych class in college, I remember discussing a paper study. They asked athletes if they would take the option to guarantee them a gold medal at the Olympics, even if it meant that they would die within 4 years. A huge percentage said they’d take it. And before you say athletes in these studies were insane to go to such lengths, I’d look within. Because there is a time in everyone’s life when you have to ask: “what’s it going to take to be the best I can be?” And if you’ve never asked yourself a question as serious as this, then its pretty tough to be able to relate to the situation that these dopers have to face. But if you’ve trained in a hyper-competitive environment, you’ve likely had to make some serious decisions. As have your competitors, and as will your kids.

I’m not condoning the actions of dopers. Its just plain unfair to decide that you are above the law, and take matters of competition into your own hands. But I’m not pissed at Lance either. Well, that’s not entirely true. I feel horrible for the cancer survivors who have had a sham pulled over them. They are facing issues much more severe, than sport – like life and death. Everyone deserves a hero, but when death is staring you in the face, I think you deserve the truth. When my kids look up to their future role model, they deserve the truth. And when you step up to line, toe to toe as an athlete on race day, you deserve the truth. I hope that sports in general take time to come clean, and we take serious consideration on what we’ll allow, and establish new limits. Its going to take a massive crumbling down of the old ways to fix where sport has gone. Look around you – its happening before your eyes. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

20121013-230222.jpgCitius, Altius, Fortius = Faster, higher, stronger. The Olympic creed. The most noble of creeds to achieve excellence for you and for your country. Let’s make sure that “we” keep noble in this creed.

20121001-155217.jpgOK – you go to your doc or therapist. He/she gets a funny orange triangle thing (reflex hammer) and gently taps just below your knee. Instantly, you kick out your leg. You get a look of approval, and your doc moves onto to the next thing….. what just happened here? And what does this have to do with running surfaces I spoke of during my UROC video last week?

Your doc is testing your reflexes: an involuntary and nearly instantaneous movement in response to a stimulus. By nature, a reflex is not something you need to “think about” – it doesn’t require any processing in your brain. Basically, your body gets a signal (input), and it produces some type of response (output). So this very simple action of a tiny tap below your knee cap produces a contraction in your quad without your brain telling your quad to contract. Pretty useless right? Wrong.

Reflexes allow us to look at your neuromuscular system. The term “Neuromuscular system” is basically a fancy word to explain something very simple: muscles can’t do anything unless your nerves tell them to. Testing your reflexes let us see if the nerves are transmitting the right signals throughout your body. We know the INPUT is good because we both saw someone whack your knee. What we hope to see is the “right” amount of muscle contraction or OUTPUT. Poor output, such as too little contraction (called “low tone” or hypotonic) or too much contraction (hypertonic) is a sign that the neuromuscular system has a glitch. Little glitches means the system is unstable and produces less than optimal muscle contraction. The reasons for these glitches are a bit outside this blog post! Fortunately, most people will fall into the “normal range.” Performance in this “normal range” is a sign that the nerves do a good job of relaying information throughout your body, and that your muscles produce the “right” amount of contraction. These “smooth” reflexes mean your body has developed a very refined or organized way of moving when its given an input. OK – why are we wasting your time with this little lesson? Gait is pretty much a reflex.

Sure, you can make a conscious decision to walk or run backwards, or skip every third step if you want to. But for the most part, you don’t THINK about taking each and every step when walking and running. It happens sub-consciously at a fancy place in your nervous system called a “central pattern generator.” Over time you’ve learned to fine tune and coordinate this reflex. And spending time concentrating on your running form helps fine-tune this reflex pattern. Ever heard the term perfect practice makes perfect?

Interestingly, when we sprain ligaments, we tear nerves. I explain all this much more in my book, but the key aspect is: torn nerves = less input. Less INPUT = poor muscle control or OUTPUT. What do we do? In therapy we work to improve the INPUT to our body by doing lots of proprioception and balance training so we can get a better OUTPUT. You learn to refine your control, and develop alternate strategies to control your body. Do these gains translate over to running? Yes they do. You can improve your stability after an injury. But you know translates really well to running? Running….on different surfaces!

If you always give the exact same input, you’ll always get the exact same output. If you always run on a treadmill, at the exact same speed, and you never get tired, this strategy works pretty well. Except that isn’t the real world. Your body needs to know HOW to respond when you get a different INPUT. You run up hill, down hill, get tired, change your body weight from day to day, and encounter different surfaces. All these slight differences require slight changes in your technique.

Research shows similar trends for both walking and running gait. When things are always the same, you are more likely to get an injury. When things are out of control you are also more likely to get an injury. But people who have a range of comfortable walking and running patterns have multiple strategies to tap into.

So what’s the take home message here? If you give your body the same INPUT every time, you’ll always get the same response. If you expose your body to different surfaces, you learn to refine your reflexes to produce good quality muscle control on multiple surfaces, and improve control on your typical surface. The trail runners reading this already know, and can FEEL, these differences. However those of you who are stuck on the ribbon of asphault, its time to mix it up. Train on concrete. Train on asphault. And grass. And trail. And uphill. And if it feels weird, its sign that you need to do a bit more of it. Not all at once, maybe just a little bit in small doses. If you can’t take a 4 mile trail home, then maybe run the gravel alley. Jump onto the median and run in the grass for a bit. Exposure to varied surfaces can help you develop as a better runner.

Different input = smoother reflexes

Smoother reflexes = better muscle control

Better muscles control = better runners.