Monthly Archives: July 2010

Barefoot Running

Earlier this year, I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and found it to be one of the most inspirational running books I’ve ever read.
One of the most important points the book makes is how our history of running in the modern world has been built up by a bunch of theories which were ultimately proven to be false, which also have been extended by a number of big corporations dedicated to creating running shoes. And all this can be prevented by going back to basics, which is to run barefoot.
But first, what has happened with our affinity for wearing shoes? In this great, detailed and very geek work, Shoes, Sitting, and Lower Body Dysfunctions | Eat. Move. Improve., it shows how we humans have completely atrophied or overstretched and weakened essential muscles which would allow us to run without injury. Not only have we done this simply by wearing shoes of all sorts, but our sedentary, sitting lives have also messed up our bodies quite a bit.
Mostly all these amazing support muscles nature has given us have just wasted away, making running a difficult activity when in fact it should not be.
Enter the barefoot running craze. After reading Born to Run, I went out immediately looking for my pair of Vibram Five Fingers. Anyone who has looked for a pair will note that it is near impossible to find a pair. They are so popular now that you can barely find them anywhere. So far, REI has some occasionally in stock, but if you’re down in Los Angeles area, Adventure 16 on Pico Blvd always seems to get a lot every week so check back frequently.
The fit is pretty particular so you need to go in and try them on. I was actually a size larger than the sizing chart recommended so you really have to make sure they fit right. Also, I first bought a pair of KSOs which were pretty good for cooler weather, like sub-60 degree temperatures. But the panel of fabric over the instep made getting them on not so easy. So I also bought a pair of Sprints which were much easier to get on, and I use them for the warm-enough days.
At the moment, I am up to walking around in them as much as I can. I have tried running very, very short distances just to see what it feel like. But I have not quite gotten there yet. I am training for the Honolulu Marathon right now and intend to race in my old dependable ASICS.
I am still a fan however. Many of my friends are starting out trying barefoot running and have asked me about it. So I thought I would post all the resources I’ve found so far on barefoot running. Here they are:
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall – the best inspirational running book I’ve read in a while, and big on barefoot running.
Shoes, Sitting, and Lower Body Dysfunctions | Eat. Move. Improve. – again, a very complete analysis of all the atrophy our bodies have undergone due to our shoes and sitting.
Running Times Magazine: Transitioning to Minimalism – a great short article on making the change to barefoot running, and a survey of the minimalist running shoes available now or soon.
12 Step Program to Run Barefoot – nicely setup step by step program to running fully barefoot that you can follow.
I found two books on Amazon that were specifically for barefoot running:
Barefoot Running: How to Run Light and Free by Getting in Touch with the Earth by Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee – I just ordered this one and will check it out.
The Barefoot Running Book: A Practical Guide to the Art and Science of Barefoot and Minimalist Shoe Running by Jason Robillard – I just got this on my Kindle and think it’s very concise and excellent.
I think these DVDs are excellent, and I generally like these better than books, which they also have:
Pose Method
Evolution Running
All of these advocate forefoot running, which is the cornerstone of barefoot running. Forget that heel strike crap that anyone is feeding you. Heel striking just beats up your body.
Most people I talk to angst or whine about how they can’t change the way they run. I’m sorry but if you’re running wrong, you will end up injuring yourself eventually and then give up. So is it really that “you can’t” or “you won’t”?
Here are two really great books on getting people to realize that it takes a lot of focus, dedication, and hard work to burn new habits into your body:
This Year I Will…: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True by M. J. Ryan – A great step by step and inspirational book to help you figure out how to change, and burn new and better habits into your lives.
Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success by Matthew Syed – some people think that all these talented people we see out there were born gifted; this book debunks that theory. Many of the things that we see others excel in were simply born out of THOUSANDS of hours of practice. It also means that if we put in the time and effort, we too can be really good at the things we want to be good at….like running injury free.
There you have it; all I can tell you about barefoot running. My hope is that someday I’ll get there, although I have short term goals which may mean that my barefoot running training is interspersed with running shod with normal running shoes. Suffice to say that it takes a long time to get there, and the time to adapt is highly dependent on your respective fitness, bodies, and muscles’ state.
My program is similar to the 12 Step Program; I will walk for many months. Then I will start jogging short distances and gradually lengthening them. I will watch my body’s response to the stress carefully and back off if something is tight or sore.
Already, I go to ART and Graston every week to help restore function to tight muscles. I also use Kinesio Tape and RockTape and the RockTape Taping Method to help the curative process as well as support my muscles during training. During my transition from crappy heel strike running to fore/mid-foot running, it took a lot of work with tape and my sports medicine docs to help me through that in one piece. Now I will go through that process again, going from shoe running to barefoot.
But hey, I’m going to be 45 this year and my body doesn’t have the ability to just adapt to new stresses overnight. They take a LOT OF TIME. I am patient, focused, and going as fast as my body allows.
Re-training my muscles is one aspect; re-training my nervous system is the other. Now I am focusing on precise foot placement as I run, putting each foot deliberately down as gently as possible, and trying to keep my feet gliding as low to the ground as possible. Doing this over and over again, and while I get fatigued, means that my nervous system must make this an unconscious habit. Only after hundreds, if not thousands of hours of training, can I burn this new habit into my body.
I am still early in this process and hope to post more about it as the months go by. Good luck in your own adventures with barefoot running!

Beginning Marathon Tips

Twice this year I was asked for some tips by some people running their first marathons. This is what I sent them:
1. It is important that you run 3-4 times a week. 2 is the barest minimum and may mean you will have a painful race.
A nice schedule is 3x a week with cross training in between, like cycling or swimming. If you can tolerate one more, then you can add that in.
2. Generally you run 2 shorter workouts and then have a long run.
3. If you are not running interval, hill, or threshold workouts for your 2 shorter workouts, i would advise you to gradually build from 30 min up to 1.25 hour running for your shorter runs. You will need to substitute longer endurance type workouts for the typical threshold workouts.
4. On the long runs, you should build weekly about 10% in miles. For me, i use time as a metric for training and increase my runs about 15 minutes every week.
5. When you peak for a marathon, you should do a minimum of 2, hopefully 3 at 20+ miles. If you can get to 22-24 miles it will be great training not only for endurance, but for mental training in how your brain deals with being out there so long. One 20+ miler is bare minimum.
6. You should consider a run-walk strategy for the race. I ran my first NYC marathon with a 5 min run :30 walk strategy and it got me in at 5 hours 19 minutes.
If you choose this, you should think about training this way also, so you can get used to running with walk breaks.
7. Somewhere between mile 14 and mile 20, most runners experience the “wall”. This is where your body seems to slow down and you’re feel like you’re moving through molasses, and its hard to go faster. You may experience a mental urge to just quit or slow down and just walk. This is the “wall”. During training, you should train within this mileage towards your peak to train your body and mind to deal with working through the “wall”. However, note that if you break through the wall, everyone typically experiences new found energy and you can run to the finish. So whatever you do, DON’T QUIT when you experience the wall. Keep moving!
8. You should practice hydration during your training runs.
you should consider getting one of these:
Fuel Belt Enduranace 4-Bottle Belt
and then get some bigger bottles:
Fuel Belt 10 oz Super Flask 2-pack
I typically go through 4 10 oz bottles of fluid during a race, for a 4 hour marathon. this varies greatly on temperatures. I have started drinking more from aid stations so nowadays I only take 2 10 oz bottles with me and just drink along the way.
Then you should get some extra pockets to hold your gels:
Fuel Belt Pockets
You should also pick a good sports drink to drink during the race. I use First Endurance EFS ( because it has a lot of electrolytes and also some protein. But most importantly, it is whey protein as soy protein has been known to cause stomach problems. You can get EFS from Helen’s Cycles on Lincoln in Marina Del Rey. There is another store in Santa Monica. Or order it here at
9. You should practice fueling during training. I am a big user of PowerGels because they have a higher electrolyte component, plus I can get some with caffeine for an added kick towards the end of a run race.
But caffeinated gels once threw my stomach into a churn and so I take it sparingly but like the extra kick it gives, but only take it during the last 1/3 of a marathon.
Other gels also work well. You just need to find what your stomach is OK with.
You’ll probably want to take one about 10 min before the race starts and wash it down with some fluid. Then you should take one gel every 45-60 min, and take a sip of fluid right after. You should start fueling as soon as the race starts.
Do not let your body get into a depleted state! You won’t be able to pull out of it. The body simply cannot work fast enough to replenish your energy stores. Generally, when you race, you’re burning more energy than you can take in and process. So it’s impossible to replace it all and don’t try. Just keep as much as you can going in with the gels and sports drink.
Your body is working hard to keep you going with your athletic activity and is not devoting much resources to digestion. Thus, training will help your body prepare for a long, hard effort but it cannot supply all the energy it needs. Gels and what you get in an energy drink are the easiest to absorb that do not require much from your stomach to do so. But even that has a limit to what it can absorb per hour. Taking more than that can mean some severe gastrointestinal problems, like vomiting, stomach ache, or diarrhea.
Trust me i’ve been there before and it is the worst feeling to have stomach problems during a race, besides the fact that squating on a port-a-potty is just gross anyways.
What’s even worse is to bonk. This is when you’ve sucked all the glycogen out of your muscles and you have nothing left, and you cant replace it either through fueling. It’s the worst feeling ever and you just feel like quitting. You may not even be able to run after you bonk.
10. Lubrication is a good thing to put on. You never know when you get chafing or blisters.
For chafing, i use Bodyglide. For my feet, i use Blistershield roll-on. see all of it here:
Pre-race and during training, rub bodyglide on inside of your upper arms and along your ribs and lats where your swinging arms will rub. Guys get nipple burn but I usually don’t hear women getting it, but I rub it on my nipples. I usually only put on lube for training runs longer than about 1.25 hours. Below that, it usually isn’t a problem.
I wear these socks to prevent blisters:
But i have found that my form is more predictive of blisters than socks. So in changing/correcting my footstrike to the ground, I have found that I have substantially reduced the chance of blisters, in addition to using Blistershield lube.
11. Another thing you may experience is sore biceps. This is from simply holding your arms up for such a long time. So watch out for this when you train and get used to holding your arms up that long. Learn to relax the whole way and shake out your arms occasionally.
12. Marathon taper is typically about two weeks. You do one more long run/high volume week two weeks before the race and then take two weeks to taper. I would not advise you to do a long run one week before. Experienced athletes are ok with this, but for beginners it’s better that you not overtrain, and that you arrive fresh and uninjured on race day.
13. I gave you some DVDs. i think the Pose Method stuff is a bit hokey, but definitely practicing balance by standing on one leg is a good thing. Running on the balls of my feet have eliminated knee problems although it took literally years for my calves to adapt to the stress. Only recently have they not protested in the early season after coming off the off season. ChiRunning is pretty good. Evolution Running was additive although I felt that I learned the most from ChiRunning and Pose.
14. As we mentioned, running into a headwind stinks. Try to find somebody to run behind. You are basically drafting behind.
15. Interval training is great. It allows you to create situations where you can adapt to higher stresses, which equate to handling tough conditions during races. But it is done with short bursts as training at super high intensities for too long, over too long a period of time will only lead to injury and overtraining. So here is one interval sequence that involves neuromuscular training. You should strive to do this sequence every week if possible.
Neuromuscular training
Description: use of super short intervals, with full recovery in between, but at super high intensity, will train your neuromuscular system to adapt to high efforts, whether they are high speed or high effort or both. Then slower speeds or lower effort will feel almost easy. But most importantly, it trains your neuromuscular system to fire neurons (to make the muscles move) faster and not to tire from simply the effort of firing. This is a source of fatigue and is easily eliminated by workouts like these. These are best done on a treadmill where the relentless nature of the treadmill forces you to keep up or else you’ll fly off the back (but please don’t!). The treadmill can also be cranked up to speeds that one would normally not be able to achieve, but eventually can adapt to. This will lead to faster speeds overall which may be hard to get to if only doing road or track work.
WORKOUT 1: Discover your workout speed or workout effort
Warm up with this sequence:
4 min easy jog, whatever speed works. For me that is 4 MPH.
Then, do this cycle with each time increasing the speed by .5 MPH:
30 sec @ Speed, then 30 sec rest back to your jog speed.
Keep increasing the speed until you find that it is almost too hard to keep up, but not so hard that you cannot. You may find that you will pass the speed you should be working out at where you will find it took everything you had to just hold on for 30 seconds, which is OK, so make your workout speed .5 MPH less than that number.
Once you find that speed, then if you don’t feel too tired, run another 2 intervals at that speed:
:30 @ X MPH, then rest for 1:00 in between intervals.
WORKOUTS AFTER 1: increase the number of times you can repeat speed X for :30, with rest interval of 1:00
Warm up again, 4 min easy jog, then do 30 sec @ speed with 30 sec rest. Increase speed by .5 MPH each time until you hit X MPH. Then take a 1.5 min easy jog.
Start with 4 repeats at :30 @ X MPH, with rest interval of 1:00
Then each workout time afterwards, try to increase by one more repeat. So next workout 5 repeats at :30 @ X MPH, with rest interval of 1:00, then 6 x :30 @ X MPH, RI 1:00, then 7 x :30 @ X MPH, RI 1:00, etc. If you cannot add one more repeat, then just stop at the previous number of repeats.
Total time for these workouts is less than 20 min usually.
16. The typical marathon before and race day looks like this for me:
Day before:
No training. Check into the race, get your race materials. Make sure you have enough supplies: Clothes, shoes, sports drinks, gels, etc. I also like to buy whatever it is I’m going to eat tomorrow morning.
Prepare everything you’re going to race with on the floor. I put my running shoes, hat, sunglasses, shirt, tights or pants, socks, etc. all on the floor and lay it out. I stick gels in my fuel belt. I pin my race number to my shirt or use a race number belt.
That night I eat a big pasta dinner. There is some evidence that you should eat a pasta dinner 2 nights before. I personally like to do both if possible. I think just the night before is probably enough. If it’s going to be a warm day, i may also toss salt on the pasta to help with electrolyte loading.
Then i go sit on the toilet and try to crap as much out as possible. I know this sounds bad, but you don’t want to go and crap out on the race course. It’s the worst feeling.
Morning of Race:
I like to get up about 3 hours before race start. As soon as i get up, I start eating my breakfast and get dressed. My typical breakfast is a hard boiled egg and maybe 1/4 of a bagel, plus a glass of sports recovery drink. This is to carbo load one last time before the race but with something that doesn’t upset my stomach. As soon as I finish eating, I go sit on the toilet and try to crap one more time.
I usually try to wear something warm as mornings can be cool depending on where you race. I bring a small pack with me to stuff everything in. Sometimes races will give you a plastic bag. In any case, whatever you bring you should mark it with your name and race number. I also bring a small plastic bottle of water with me, and one gel.
Then I get down to race start. For a marathon, there is usually a truck where you can hand in your backpack or bag of stuff. Thus you can arrive with warm clothes and then take them off and put them in a bag or pack and hand it to the truck guy. The truck then carries all the racer’s bags/packs to the finish line where you can pick it up. I stretch and warmup about 30 min before race start. I will run some light short reps back and forth to get my blood going. About 10 min before race i take the gel and sip some water. I try not to drink too much water or else i have to go to the bathroom.
17. Recovery is so important. It’s probably the least understood aspect of training. You need to rest your body and brain enough so that you can recover and grow for your next workout. Thus, triathletes are in a constant state of body breakdown and it takes time to adapt to daily stress over a period of 6 straight days of workouts, including double workouts (or triple) on some days. Most people don’t rest enough and this can cause dwindling performance and lead to injury and overtraining.
I think you should run 3 days per week with rest days in between, or recovery workouts in between. By recovery workout, i mean you can pedal on a bike or Lifecycle gently for about 20-30 min to help flush out bad stuff in your muscles and bring new nutrients in. Swimming is also a good recovery workout if you don’t swim hard. Also, I think you should not run the day after your long run. I think you’ll reach a mileage that you’ll find you’re fairly sore the day after. So take the day off!
You know I’m a fan of ice baths so they help remove soreness, help flush out bad stuff, and get new nutrients into muscles. Since you’re right by the beach, you could probably even just walk into the surf up to your upper thighs for about 10 minutes, since the surf is pretty cold.
Also, if you find that you are still very sore on the day after your rest day, take the day off also. Do not be afraid to take an extra day!
During the long training periods of ironman for me, I take one full day off, then the next day i can only do a recovery run and swim. Then on the second day after, I usually do a bike recovery workout. It’s only on the third day that I am back to being able to do a full effort workout. Before that it’s impossible. So I just accept that fact and rest that long. If I don’t, I could get injured and definitely would be pushing my body beyond what it is capable of absorbing at that moment. There was a time when I was pushing very hard and recovery even spilled into the third day and it was on the fourth day that I could finally do a full effort workout. It was only when I discovered protein powder that it almost brought my recovery back by a whopping full 2 days!
18. Eating is important. Your body needs calories to perform. It will not be able to do so on what you have stored in your body right now. That is because 1) the fat that is stored in your body is not easily accessible to heavy activity, and 2) your body has not stored enough glycogen in the muscles because you haven’t trained enough yet, and 3) your body has not yet developed the ability to convert the fat in your body to glycogen. So you should eat afterwards both in protein (to repair the muscle damage sustained in training) and carbs (to be stored in your muscles for use in the next day’s of training). You should try to eat within 1-2 hours after workouts to make sure you get enough. Otherwise, the body will start to cannibalize muscle tissue to recover, and you will feel drained because the body is attempting to restore glycogen in muscles but now is sucking it dry and attempting to do so by a much slower process of using other sources such as fat and protein. In fact it is so slow that you will not be recovered by the next day or perhaps even the day after! So eat right after each workout, even if it is a piece of fruit or smoothie for shorter workouts. For a long workout, I would definitely look at eating a larger meal to get protein and carbs back into your body.
Whew!! That’s a lot of information to digest! So many things to think about preparing for the race and then during the race itself! It can feel overwhelming but after a while it all comes pretty natural.
Here is a typical marathon build in Google docs. The dates correspond to this year’s Honolulu Marathon. Note that this employs a 3 week build, followed by a 1 week recovery week to give your body a break before beginning another 3 weeks of building running time.
If you’re reading this and you’re a first time marathoner, hopefully you’ll find this info useful. If you have any questions/comments/concerns, feel free to comment!

Belly Breathing

A long time ago in Bicycling magazine, I saw an unflattering side shot of Jan Ullrich at the Tour de France showing his belly jutting out. It was, however, an article on breathing from the diaphragm and how it gives you added ability to get more air into your system. The Jan Ullrich picture was not illustrate that he had developed a beer gut, but rather that he was showing a more effective breathing method. Here are some pics of Lance Armstrong on this post from CyclingNews Forums notice how low his belly hangs. He’s also a master of belly breathing.
This came up again just recently for me. I am attempting to build for the Honolulu Marathon at the end of the year right now and just completed my base phase, after about 2 false starts due to having a baby this year and also a nasty allergy attack which set me back about 2 weeks. Previously this year, I had gone out twice to see if I could complete my usual track benchmark of 10x400s RI 1:00. But for some reason, I would seriously wipeout at about 4 400s. I tried both running a little aggressively, and also then tried the second time at a more conservative pace. But no dice. I would get to 4 laps and wipe out.
This was very wrong! In years past, I could always complete my benchmark workout. But this year, I think there was a big difference. This was the fact that I was doing a lot of neuromuscular training on the treadmill. My nervous system is now primed to moving my legs faster than in previous years which is great, but it is unknown how long I can maintain a faster pace since these workouts tend to be a minute maximum with lots of rest, and are more for getting my nervous system used to moving my legs fast and not using extra energy to do that.
So when I hit the track, I was just moving my legs faster given that my nervous system was now OK with that, but I think I hit an upper limit to my lung capacity given the way I was breathing.
All right: I admit it. When I’m out there, I tend to suck in my gut to make myself look better and not like I have a fat belly. But I think this has created an artificial upper bound to my lung capacity because it doesn’t allow me to fully engage my diaphragm when I breathe.
Thus, on previous attempts this year, I would run faster 400s which is good, but wipe out a lot sooner as the oxygen in my system got quickly used up due to running at a faster pace.
The clue I received was from my sports medicine person who told me about belly breathing. I thought about my issues with my benchmark track workout and thought this was worth a try.
Yesterday I headed out to the track and decided to emphasize belly breathing. As soon as I took off the starting line, I would begin to breathe deeply through my belly, and not expanding my chest. I would also practice doing full breaths like this more rapidly. This allowed me to get to the end of my 10x400s and not be totally wiped out. Success!
So I sacrificed a little better profile view of my body for faster speed and sustaining a higher effort. Too bad. I’m still glad I’m improving and getting faster.
More on belly/diaphragm breathing at Wikipedia.

I Am Without My Normatec MVP UGH

Last year, I got hold of a Normatec MVP and immediately fell in love with it. Going through Ironman training with it has been amazing; after my long rides/runs, I would use it for 30-45 minutes and my legs would feel so refreshed and recovered, and help me be ready for the next day’s workout.
The other week, my MVP electronics unit died! Training for a marathon right now, I am building up to my usual 3 hour/18 mile runs. But man, I can sure feel the difference even so early in my build. I’ve only been running about 1 to 1:15 but working hard with a lively negative split each time.
Without the MVP, I am feeling so much more tighter and sore than using it immediately post-workout. Yesterday after running, I started up my ice baths but that was still not enough to match the effects of a 30-45 minute session with the MVP.
I sent it back to be fixed last week and cannot wait to get it back soon…!