Saturday, August 28, 2010

Weekend Potpourri - Six weeks to Chicago

I don't know if many have noticed, but now that the oppressive summer heat has given way to cooler and milder weather, it can only mean one thing - fall marathon season is fast approaching! As of this writing, there are only six training weeks left before "Marathon Weekend" on 10/9-10/10 commences. In honor of this occasion (and frankly because I have too much material to cover in not so much time and space), I present to you running highlights from my past week in six points:
  1. Running/Training Update - This was a peak week of training for me. After rocking out a tough tempo run Tuesday, track work on Thursday and a 20 mile long run today (as a pacer), I'm on my way to a 70+ mile training week, which is a new mileage PR for me. Yet despite all that, I'm still relatively healthy with minimal pain, soreness or tightness to report. I have really taken to heart the old adage of running slow runs slow so you can run the faster runs fast and it has really worked well for me. I have two hard weeks of hard training left and a 24 hour relay race in mid-September before the taper. I can hardly wait.

  2. Running Relays - Speaking of relays, did you know that I'm running the Reach the Beach Relay next month? I'll be running with Team Saucony as part of a 12-person team that will cover a distance of 200 miles in 24 hours. Judging from the insane fun I had at Ragnar NY back in July, I am expecting much the same in this one. And since I've had one relay race under my belt, I'll be more experienced and be more prepared to run my best in this race. I'm so excited to run with this crew. Woohoo!

  3. Running Podcast - A week ago, my friends Jason and Ray at "Geeks in Running Shoes" invited me on their podcast to talk running, hydration, and injuries. Apparently, it has gotten rave reviews from many so far so I wanted to make sure my bloggy friends get a chance to listen too. You can download the show from ITunes or directly from the site here. I promise lots of laughter, some nonsense and a bit of medical knowledge too! If you listen, be sure to leave some feedback for us. Thanks!

  4. Running Strides - As a followup to my last post where I spoke about using a faster and shorter stride to gain speed and improve running form, my friend Pete L forwarded me this article from Runner's World detailing a research study where it was confirmed that this was true. The study showed that increasing turnover and taking shorter strides does indeed lead to runners landing closer to their center of mass and reducing energy absorption on joints. As the researchers concluded from their study, "Our findings demonstrate that subtle changes in step rate can reduce the energy absorption required of the lower extremity joints, which may prove beneficial in the prevention and treatment of running injuries." (Thanks Peter!) Those who are interested in transitioning to minimalist/barefoot running and those who are looking to improve their performance should pay close attention.

  5. Running Shoes - Meanwhile, Pete L, the running shoe guru himself also wrote up a splendid review of the Saucony Kinvara and how the shoe resembles a gateway drug for the minimalist running. I have been running races and long runs in my Kinvaras and have felt great in them. My take on them is that although they are not strictly minimalist per se, they are by far the shoes with the lowest heel drop I've ever worn. They are lightweight (7.7 oz) and feel extremely comfortable on my feet. I am already on my second pair and will most likely run my fall marathons in them.

  6. Running Marathons - Speaking of marathons, I posed this question to the twitternation earlier this week - If you were to receive a full ride to run just one single marathon, which would you choose? Out of 20+ people, the top three vote-getters were London, Great Wall, and Antartica. Interesting. I'm now opening the survey up to the masses - What say you blogger people?

Have a great weekend everyone! I hope the final days of summer are kind to you and you are all rocking those workouts!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Transitioning to Minimalist Running

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been asked by many runners for my advice on the proper way to transition to more minimalist running. It seems to me from all the stories I've heard that many of them are convinced that running with a more barefoot/forefoot gait (and less with a heel strike) is the more "natural" and efficient way to run. Yet very few of them actually know what the best way it is to accomplish this. As a group they resist the notion of removing their shoes and going on a naked barefoot run. Many of them have personal anecdotes from others who have tried such an experiment and ended up injured and had given up altogether. They all want some assurances from me before they spend the big bucks on a new pair of Nike Frees or Vibrams or the latest minimal shoe that they will not end up on the PUP (that's Physically Unable to Perform, for those are unfamiliar with the football euphemism) List. Unfortunately I wasn't able to provide them with a guarantee that they will not be injured during the transition process because let's face it, injuries can happen in all types of running. However, I did give them some simple exercises and basic guidelines to follow to make the transition a bit safer and easier for them. In a nutshell, I told them that the key to learning how to run more forefoot and more efficiently is to learn how to perform speedwork more effectively.

Now you might ask, as many of them did, what does speedwork have to do with running footfoot? Doesn't doing speedwork just make you faster? You might also say as some of them also did "I am slow. I am not fast like you. I don't do speedwork. I don't want to get faster. I just want to run" (If you're shaking your head, believe me, there are many runners who feel this way!) But what if I told you, as I did to them, that speedwork isn't even really about building speed at all? What if I told you that getting faster is only a secondary consequence of running with speed? The primary objective, as those who regularly engage in speedwork knows, is to train the body to run more efficiently. Whenever you stress the body and ask it to perform at a faster than comfortable pace, you are essentially asking all the bodily functions involved in running to work harder, quicker and more effectively than they do when you're running easy, slow, and suboptimally. Picture a little kid learning how to ride a bike for the first time. At first, he is uneasy and is peddling very slowly. The bike is wobbling from side to side threatening to topple over at any minute. Eventually though, he gets the hang of it and peddles faster, The bike is able to stay in a straight line without much effort needed to sustain movement. I liken those who don't engage regularly in speedwork to the kid wobbling from side to side with the slow bike. They not only will not get any faster, but they will also likely never uncover the inefficiencies in their own running style. This is important for those aspiring to be forefoot/barefoot runners because (unless you overstride) you will always naturally land more on your forefoot when you're running with speed. That's because the heel isn't involved when you're sprinting. (If you've ever watched elite runners in a race up close you'd see that their heels rarely if ever touch the ground when they're running.) So for those who are already engaged in weekly or bi-weekly speedwork sessions, you're likely already running more forefoot/midfoot than you realize. The thing to do then is to invest in a pair of racing flats/minimal shoes and practice with these on your speed sessions and short races. As long as you keep your strides short and small and increase only your leg turnover to compensate for the speed, you should be able to transition to running only in minimal shoes and racing flats relatively quickly. Just be sure to allow adequate time for recovery in between these speed sessions.

For those who are not doing speedwork and are on the fence about it, what are you waiting for? Remember, it's NOT about running fast. It's about learning how to run more EFFICIENTLY.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Rethinking the Shoe Selection Process

In the aftermath of the recent running shoe controversy (as I've documented here) I have been thinking a lot about runners and shoes. Like many others, I'm disturbed by the mounting evidence suggesting that the traditional method of matching shoe to runner based on foot type and arch height is not only wrong but probably injurious. Since the large majority of runners currently train and run in shoes that were prescribed to them at one point in time by a salesperson at a running store utilizing this conventional system of shoe selection, I wonder if there can be many who feel completely confident and safe in their shoes right now. Even if you've worn the same running shoes for many years (even decades perhaps) and suffered no ill effects, how do you know that there isn't another model/brand/type of shoe that would fit you better, enhance your running or prevent injury better than your current shoe? As consumers, faced with the plethora of misinformation, unproven theories, and annectodal evidence out in the various forms of popular media, how does one go about figuring all of this out?

Personally, I find the entire shoe selection process simply overwhelming and extremely problematic. To think I actually have a medical science background and enjoy reading and talking about shoes. So what about the newbie or the average runner who may not be as knowledgeable or share the same degree of running shoe fetish as I? Are they then doomed to the whim of the shoe salesperson at the running store and more than likely end up in a shoe that is not ideal or appropriate for them? This is so wrong on so many levels.

I think the average runner should be left out of this process entirely. I think the entire shoe selection process should be modified to involve specialists whose job it is to understand the dynamics of each specific shoe and figure out the foot and gait that it is designed to fit. Perhaps the task should involve two or three specialists similar to the way corrective lenses are prescribed for different visual abnormalities. There can be a primary doctor (likely a podiatrist) who would perform a general examination of the foot noting anatomical dimensions and structural defects that may warrant a particular type of shoe. Then there can be a second specialist who performs a gait analysis to determine your particular style of running and the functional nuances of your foot. Finally the information is passed to a salesperson who picks out the appropriate models of shoes for you to choose from. Yes, this entire process seems a bit cumbersome and potentially expensive but if a significant portion of the running community is already wearing the wrong shoes that will inevitably lead to injury, doesn't this mean that the science of shoes and feet is too complicated for the average person to understand and apply? After all, if it requires an ophthalmologist, an optometrist and an optician to help one nearsighted or farsighted individual find an appropriate set of glasses (or contacts), why should selecting appropriate running shoes for runners be any different?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Training Update: Halfway to Chicago

Thank you all for your supportive comments on my less than stellar race. I am still at a loss for why I gave up in the middle of that race but I suspect it has less to do with my fitness/training and more to do with environmental, life and stress factors that were outside of my control. I am proud of the way I fought back to run my fastest in that last mile though so there is some encouraging signs for me to take away from that relatively mediocre performance.

Although many would use this race as a sign that I haven't been running well or am slowing down (perhaps because of my old age), I refuse to indulge in such negativity because in all honesty, up to this point in my marathon training, I've been running more consistently and training harder than I ever have before. Through week 7 of this training cycle (which ended this past weekend) my average weekly mileage has been just a shade under 53 miles per week, which is the most I've ever done up to this point. If I did a comparative analysis of how this volume compares to my three previous training cycles, it'd look something like this:

I'm not sure what of all this will translate to on race day and I know there's still many more hard weeks of training left before I get there. I'm merely throwing this out there to show you all that I haven't been slacking and to give myself a little perspective on how my training has been going so far. Given that the majority of these miles were compiled outside in the hottest summer we've ever had in the Northeast, let's just say that the thought of quitting long distance running has almost become a daily ritual. Still, because I have learned so well not to listen to my own thoughts while running, I have to constantly remind myself to be cognizant of overtraining especially now that my training volume has increased. Physically I have no injury concerns although this week I am suffering from a virus which will force me to step down my training for the next few days. Overall I feel confident that my endurance, stamina, and speed is on par for a good run in Chicago on 10/10.

I apologize for the lack of posts recently as my work and running obligations have taking a toll on my blogging life. I will have one coming up in the next couple of days dealing with the aftermath of the shift in running shoe paradigm and my proposal for where I think the running shoe industry as a whole needs to go, so look out for that.

I hope everyone's running, training, and life is going well. We will all survive and make it through this crazy summer yet. I know we will!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Run To Hell and Back:
Race Report from the NYRR Team Championships 5M Race

Many runners like to designate their races as A, B, or C events days, weeks, or even months in advance. I personally don't believe in such practice. For me, a race is either a competitive event or its not. I don't ever start a race thinking I'm going to give 50% effort. I always go out thinking I'm going to do my best. If circumstances change in the middle of a race that prevents me from giving it my all, than so be it. But at the start of every event, I always look to race well or I don't race at all. That was precisely my mindset today as I waited at my starting corral, hands on hips, body bent at the waist, a minute before the start of this race.

On paper, this was just an ordinary 5 mile race in Central Park, one that I've done countless number of times before (including one just 5 weeks ago!). Realistically speaking though, this was anything but "just another race". This annual race is for club points (actually DOUBLE points) and draws the best runners from across the many local clubs around the tri-state. it is notoriously small (only club members are allow to run), universally fast, and isn't for the faint of heart. I've done this particular race twice and each year have managed to set a PR for that distance. I've been nervous and anxious the past few days wondering if that trend will continue this year.

The lead-up to the race was mediocre at best. I didn't sleep well, ate poorly and despite taking a rare rest day yesterday, didn't feel fresh heading over to the race. I also made the mistake of overhydrating prior to the start by drinking a combination of water, tea, milk and gatorade all within an hour before the start. Despite the temperature being a bit on the mild side in the early morning (74F), I knew the sun was getting higher and stronger by the minute. For whatever reason, I felt a little sick, a little tired, and not ready to race even as I was running my warmup strides. Probably pre-race jitters...nothing to worry about, I said to myself as I gulped down 2 cups of water and ran off to my corral.

Although I customarily start races from the 1st blue corral, rarely from the 2nd red corral, I found myself lining up for the first time from the 3rd yellow corral today. Despite the small race field today, it was personally a bit disconcerting to start a 5 mile race not being able to actually see the starting line from where I was. I was also anxious of the extra heavy crowd around me jostling for position around the sharp first turn. I'd been stepped on rounding the corner each of the previous two years so I was afraid of what might happen this year with a bigger crowd around me all fighting for that tight space of real estate. The only positive I drew from my yellow bib was that it matched my spanking new Saucony Fasttwitch 4s perfectly!

After a brief set of announcements and the singing of the national anthem (apparently from a fellow runner), the horn sounded and we took off.

The pace was aggressive right from the start. As the frontrunners unleashed themselves along the straightaway and around the tight first turn like raging rapids over a waterfall, I thought I'd avoid trouble by running along the center of the course. I was wrong. No sooner was I about to make a wide sweeping turn around the first bend did I feel a sharp elbow jab right into my exposed shoulder. Ouch! I tumbled over a step just from the force alone before regaining my balance and continuing on. Well, at least one streak is continuing today.

Right from the getgo, I was looking for fellow Flyers to hang onto. As I made my way up the first west side hill, I see AP running about 100m ahead of me, and thought he'd be perfect for me to latch on. I stuck pretty close to his pace for about the first mile and a half. During this time, I was feeling good, running fast, but wasn't entirely comfortable with how I was running. There were a lot of spectators around, mostly cheering for the other elite teams, but I was able to feed off their energy to fuel my own run.

I was pretty happy with my first mile time, considering it was over a series of three hills, but by the middle of the second, I was tiring just a little bit. My good friend BW called out my name as he biked along the race course and that pumped me up to maintain my pace for just a little bit. I could tell I was dragging from the number of racers passing me so even as I tried hard to maintain effort (without looking at the Garmin), I knew I was losing pace.

After passing the mile 2 marker in a respectable time, I suddenly felt a minor cramp in my stomach that bothered and irritated me. It wasn't severe, it wasn't debilitating, but I felt I had to slow down to prevent it from progressing further. I eased off the gas pedal for nothing more than a quarter to a half mile tops, and then it was gone. Yet even though it was gone, I had no energy to pick the pace backed up. It was as if my legs were married to the slower pace and would not deviate to a higher turnover. At this point, the sun was high up in the sky, and I was getting hot. I inadvertently glanced over at Garmin and saw my heart rate skyrocket to the 170s. For some reason, that freaked me out more (even though it shouldn't) and I started to disintegrate. I lost pace, I lost effort, I felt horrible and everyone and their grandmother were passing me left and right. I wanted to stop and almost did...but the fact that I'd have to explain another DNF to my teammates and friends, both real and on twitter, FB and DailyMile kept me from dropping out.

So I struggled over the mile 3 marker (at a pace that's slower than tempo), struggled over Cat Hill and the rest of mile 4 (at a pace that wouldn't be found in a good half marathon for me). I know there were many runners and spectators who were cheering me on. I could hear their voices echoing in my head. But all I could sense was fatigue and all I could feel was ineptitude and failure. I know I was headed for a really horrible time and all I wanted to do was to run away and hide. But I couldn't...I wouldn't let myself. I was a Flyer, a runner, and soon to be running coach at diabetes camp, which meant that unless I was suffering some unbearable physical ailment, I have to finish what I started.

Shortly after mile 4, I saw my fellow Asian Flyer BH come up from behind and pass me. He gave me some brief words of encouragements and brought me out of the self-pity party I was throwing myself mid-race. Since this was the last mile, mostly flat, I decided to pick up the pace and stick with him. The weird thing was that the harder I ran, the better I felt. Out of courtesy (don't ask me why I thought that was an appropriate sentiment at mile 4 of a 5 mile race), I ran behind him for about a quarter mile. Eventually, with about 800 meters to go, I told him to pick it up and ran past him. I didn't look back but just ran as hard as I could toward the finish line. There were many Flyer ladies cheering close to the finish and I absorbed all their energy and came in with as strong a finish as I've ever had. Needless to say, it was my best mile of the race, both physically and emotionally.

In the end, I ended up with my worst 5 miler in over a year, exactly 20 seconds slower than a race on a similar course 5 weeks ago and 45 seconds than my Team Championship race from last year. Even though I'm more than a little disappointed, I am withholding judgment on the implications of this race performance on my chances for a good marathon in Chicago. Like I've told many others before, bad training days and bad races happen, sometimes for inexplicable reasons. This is my opportunity to practice my own sage advice and try my best to move on.

Official Time: 30:58; Pace – 6:11 min/mi
Mile Splits: 5:56, 6:03, 6:25, 6:40, 5:54
Overall Place: 218 out of 783
Age Group Place: 40 out of 129
Age Graded Percentile: 70.3%
Flyer Men Rank: 5th

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Birthday Thanks and Active Recovery

Thanks to all of my bloggy friends for your congratulatory wishes and kind words over the weekend. My birthday/graduation celebration in three parts this past weekend was a smashing success. Not only did I drink, eat, and party a lot with friends and family, I also got to lead a perfectly paced 20 mile training run for NYRR and run my 35K all at the same time. Hooray! I honestly cannot remember the last time I had as much fun celebrating my birthday as I did this year! It was all so fantabulous! (Yes, I know it's a made-up word, but it's awesome...don't judge!)

As I look back and reflect on my progression as a runner, one of the immediate things that struck me was how much my running volume has changed. It is mind boggling how I ran more miles at age 32 than I did at age 30 and 31 combined and how I ran more miles at 34 than I did at 31 and 32 combined. I remember when I used to run just 3-4 times a week in the earlier days, being fully convinced that I'd surely injure myself if I were to run more. Nowadays, I run 6 days a week without a moment's hesitation and without worrying if or when an injury might pop up next. Besides the obvious gains in knowledge and experience over the years, the main difference in my opinion between where I am now and where I was in the past is learning, applying, and embracing a concept I call active recovery.

To the naive and inexperienced, the term "active recovery" seems oxymoronic. After all, how can rest and recovery, both passive events, ever be considered active? But if you understand that muscular recovery can occur even during an ongoing activity (if the activity is kept predominantly slow and does not utilize aerobic mechanisms), then it is not hard to comprehend. However, simply understanding the concept does not imply application and practice. Over the years, far too many times, I've found myself intending an active recovery run, only to forget mid-run and end up running at a general aerobic or tempo pace. The aftermath of not taking a recovery run seriously enough is that you end up feeling just as sluggish the day after the run as you did before the run. This may lead to decreased efficiency, fatigue, or worse, overtraining.

Over the past several weeks, many people I know have already begun to overtrain for their late summer/fall races. Because many runners and triathletes have addictive type A personalities that propel them to crush each and every workout, they run too fast for too long with not enough rest and easy miles and end up running themselves into the ground. I know because I used to be one of them. For about 1.5 to 2 years, I didn't know any better than to push every workout and race every tempo/interval run. This was until I met a friend who caught me limping after a particularly grueling workout one day and asked me how I was planning to run tomorrow or the next day. I told him I wasn't sure. Then he told me words that I still have never forgotten. "Run today as if the most important run is the one you will have tomorrow." What he meant by that is to never jeopardize your chance of having a good run tomorrow by running harder than necessary today. If it's a scheduled easy day, keep at easy pace so tomorrow's run can be great. If it's a hard/speedwork day, don't run harder than necessary to get the job done. That way, you won't injury yourself and can still run easy tomorrow.

Just knowing and embracing that fact has kept me off the injured list and running better and faster every year. That's what I would wish for every runner out there. That's my gift to you. Please take this message and apply wisely. Your running livelihood may very well depend on it. Run on, my friends!
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