I'm entirely convinced that my wife purchased these for me in an attempt to make absolutely sure no lady would ever want to say hello to me on the running trail. In truth, it takes quite a woman to even know what these are, let alone shop for them. Needless to say, I'm lucky and had a great Father's day because of it.
As for the socks, I actually purchased the Calf Sleeves:
If you purchase it at a local retailer you can naturally plan on paying more; the local Fleet Feet has them for about 42 bucks but given their level of customer service and contributions to the community, I'm happy to thrown them a bone once in a while.
By many accounts, the CEP sleeves are medical grade. I have no basis for comparison as I don't work in the medical field, but that's their claim. I can however confirm that these suckers are TIGHT the first time you put them on. This is, of course, the idea behind the technology. The notion is that by wearing them during exercise one reduces muscular stress (i.e. bouncing around) and post-exercise they aide in recovery (presumably from reducing inflammation). Most of this evidence is anecdotal but actual studies can't be too far behind given the amount of these things I see on the trail now.
As for my experience, I wore them on two runs thus far. One of about 10 miles and another of 22. On both runs I could feel a marked difference in leg fatigue during the run. As far as recovery is concerned, I typically have a couple of muscle "hot spots" that bother me right up until my rest days. After using the CEP's I haven't been able to feel that same twinge. Obviously this is very short term, and could easily be the placebo effect/boost you normally get with a new piece of equipment, but thus far I'm pretty happy with them and will continue to use them for the foreseeable future on any run of 8 miles or more. Admittedly at this point, that's almost all of my runs.
In short, I like them and at 30-40 bucks, I believe it's money well spent. I'm not sure what kind of fashion statement I'm making, but if I PR at the San Francisco Marathon on the 31st, who cares?
As I mentioned yesterday, the Army's recent decision to ban Vibram Fivefingers in its formations doesn't come as much of a surprise to those of us that have been "in" for longer than a day. If there is any surprise at all, it's that the Army recognized that there are other "minimalist" footwear options out there and actually referenced the term in their ALARACT message. So what does this mean for those hoping to go "minimal" or those who have recently purchased themselves a pair of VFFs? Are there any alternatives to running in Vibrams?
The short answer is a resounding YES. What's more, Vibrams are generally not the type of shoe that one should immediately jump into anyway. What follows is my own personal view on how to safely make the transition from a classic marshmallow heel shoe that encourages a heel strike to a minimal shoe such as the Vibrams, with special emphasis on alternatives if you happen to be one of those soldiers that are now prevented from using them in formation.
For the record, I'm not a certified anything. I'm not a doctor, physical therapist or podiatrist. I know what has worked for me and many of my running partners and I hope to impart some knowledge based on my own personal experience. This also isn't meant to be comprehensive but rather a primer on just what the heck minimal running is about and why you don't necessarily need Fivefingers in order to adopt the philosophy. There are a number of great resources out there to do some further research such as runblogger.com and the science of sport.
First of all, if it isn't broken, don't fix it. If you are running as much as you would like to, and are doing it pain free and enjoying yourself, then I wouldn't mess with success. As I see it there are two reasons to try to alter your running stride (which, if it hasn't occurred to you yet, is exactly what you are attempting to do if you have purchased a minimal running shoe of some kind): injury prevention / mitigation and enjoyment. From my own perspective, I was in the latter camp. I never had any injury issues but I absolutely hated running. I only did the minimum required to score well on the APFT and many times I preferred to up my score in other areas so that I could skimp on my level of running fitness.
Secondly, the transition is not going to happen overnight and if you attempt to make it happen that quickly, you are going to hurt yourself, I promise you.
Conceptually speaking, the idea behind VFFs is to encourage a barefoot running stride. The shoes themselves posses no magical powers and serve only to keep your feet from catching the odd rock or two and the blisters your virgin feet would be covered with otherwise. When you run barefoot though, something changes. Your stride alters itself to accommodate the new sensation of ground on flesh and will shift naturally to encourage a forefoot strike. Put simply, slamming your heel into the ground barefoot is painful, and your body won't allow you to do it, at least not for very long. Go ahead, take your shoes off and run across the lawn. You'll find that smacking your foot into the ground heel first will jolt you like a yugo rolling over a speed bump and you'll actually have to work in order to do it. After you slide on a pair of Vibrams, the foot is only slightly more armored than it was previously and thus the natural encouragement remains.
Why is a barefoot stride even worth it? This is a question that is at the epicenter of an enormous debate right now but there is mounting evidence that indicates that the forefoot strike encouraged by barefoot running results in far less shock to the body than does heel striking. Check out Harvard's own Dr. Lieberman for more details on this. Less shock equals fewer injuries potentially and thus folks are making the shift. I myself average about 40+ miles per week and have never had any injuries to speak of outside of the natural soreness one might expect.
So, how does one make this transition safely? My answer is slowly. I would start with three separate pairs of shoes: your current pair, a more minimal shoe such as the Saucony Kinvara or road track flat such as the Nike XC Streak, and the Vibram Fivefingers (or just plain barefoot). The idea here is two slowly integrate the last two into your routine until you don't need the first pair anymore. If you are a heavy heel striker currently, which many people are, you will find that your first VFF run will set your calves on fire. The reason for this is simple; you haven't used your muscles in a while. Your joints have taken all of the shock, but now your muscles are doing all of the work. Here is a sample schedule for someone who normally runs about 20 miles or less per week and wants to transition their shoes "downward":
Monday: Shod run 4 miles
Tuesday: VFF or Barefoot around a track .50 miles, and 2 mile shod
Thursday: Track flat run, 2.5 miles
Friday: Shod Run, 4 miles
Sunday: Shod Run 6 miles
Let your body tell you how to adjust this schedule but don't shift downward any more than 10% per week. For example if 6/20 of your miles are run barefoot or minimally, don't jump to 10 the following week, just add 1 more minimal mile until you feel comfortable. As a point of perspective, I have been doing this for over a year and a half now and have only recently reached the point where every run I do is in track flats or less. Going too fast during this process will likely result in a stress fracture (as happened to me in my first month, from being a moron and doing EVERYTHING in Vibrams) that will set you back even further.
As you can see, the loss of the Vibrams to a soldier isn't really that big of a deal when you step back and take a look at the bigger picture. Track flats, New Balance Minimus, Saucony Kinvaras . .. these are all shoes that not only meet the standard of AR 670-1, but help to encourage that forefoot strike that you worked so hard to achieve. They are also going to keep you out of trouble with your First Sergeant as well.
You're just going to have to leave the VFF runs for the weekend and hope that your improved PT score will be enough to turn some heads and hopefully change some minds.
Well, it's official, the Army apparently hates the look of the Vibram Fivefingers, known more colloquially as "Toe Shoes". . . . .from a recently published ALARACT (All Army Activity Message) . . .
SUBJECT: MODIFYING WEAR OF IMPROVED PHYSICAL FITNESS UNIFORM (IPFU)
1. THE PURPOSE OF THIS MESSAGE IS TO MODIFY THE EXISTING WEAR POLICY FOR
2. THERE ARE A VARIETY OF MINIMALIST RUNNING SHOES AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE
AND WEAR. EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY, ONLY THOSE SHOES THAT ACCOMMODATE ALL FIVE TOES IN ONE COMPARTMENT ARE AUTHORIZED FOR WEAR. THOSE SHOES THAT FEATURE FIVE SEPARATE, INDIVIDUAL COMPARTMENTS FOR THE TOES, DETRACT FROM A PROFESSIONAL MILITARY IMAGE AND ARE PROHIBITED FOR WEAR WITH THE IPFU OR WHEN CONDUCTING PHYSICAL TRAINING IN MILITARY FORMATION. THIS CHANGE WILL BE REFLECTED IN THE NEXT UPDATE OF AR 670-1.
The Army has really struggled with its handling of the minimal running movement. On the one hand, they are starting to see evidence that barefooot running technique can improve performance, and on the other, they hate the look and have essentially used that to develop their narrative. The Dinosaurs at the top are trying to reconcile something that has some clear utility but also some obviously unconventional styling.
Though I haven't discussed this issue before, my feeling was that style was certainly going to win out over substance as it generally takes a seismic shift in the situation (i.e. we go to war in the heat, suddenly Camelbaks seem like a good idea whereas once they were banned in a big way) to allow something like the Fivefingers to be a part of the uniform. Essentially what the Army is saying here is that although there may be potential benefits, we can't get over the look so choose something else. I've always had a fundamental disagreement with the Army on this issue.
It's my belief that a truly professional Army would choose the piece of equipment that best suits their needs, regardless of aesthetics, and that "appearing" dignified as the basis for decision making leads us into such debacles as the black beret, which we recently ditched. That being said, I'm no longer so naive as to think that this logic can hold for the Army writ large as there are a great number of soldiers that attempt to get away with whatever the regulation might allow, and care more about getting over than they do about functional utility. Special Operations on the other hand, is a branch that makes every effort to get the right piece of equipment for the job and I have no doubt that this ALARACT will be summarily ignored if the situation warrants it.
In addition, and I have to be completely honest here, this will likely protect a number of soldiers from themselves and the "too much too soon" syndrome that many of us have experienced. Many of the minimal brands of shoes available will likely ease folks "downward" into a type of shoe that they can tolerate for longer distances much quicker than a VFF would allow them to. It seems to me that physical training moves faster than the transition time that might be required to do things safely.
At the end of the day, I don't like the logical basis of this argument, but I understand it. I just wish the Army would take a slightly more informed stance if they are going to ban something outright in such a sweeping manner.
For those that are interested in alternatives to Vibrams while in formation or what to do if you want to transition to minimal running, check out my post on the subject.
I'm the first to admit, I sometimes run like I own the road. This is a horrible habit based largely on the fact that for the most part, I run in lonely areas where I'm not likely to be messed with, or on trails where running, walking, or biking is the only option. One such trail is the Monterey Coastal, which is so gorgeous I don't mind running the same route repeatedly, waving at the harbor seals and weaving in and out of the tourists walking to Fisherman's Wharf. It's kind of quirky, with certain areas where walkers and bikers are meant to share the same downsized roadway and other segments where the pavement is bikers only with runners asked to basically ride the shoulder.
In principle, I don't have an issue with this. It kind of makes sense despite not always being practical. The one thing I do have an issue with however is some bicyclists taking this ad absurdum and treating this very busy, tourist-laden trail as some kind of bicycle autobahn. Some of these idiots blaze through Cannery Row like they own the place, weaving through kids heading to the aquarium like they were trying to set a land speed record. I say all this as a former biker myself; I know all too well how little thought many cars or pedestrians give to bicyclists and I remember riding defensively, resigned to this truth.
Today though, I was reminded that some of these clowns feel it necessary to take it upon themselves to educate those of us they deem stupid, ignorant or both.
As I made the turnaround at the 5 mile mark of my run, I made the mistake of drifting to the right of the bike path. The "walking shoulder" was really busy today with tourists pushing strollers, small children and all kinds of commotion. I sort of absent mindedly decided to stay on the bike path for the two miles back to Cannery Row as opposed to weaving in and out of little kids. This decision apparently did not sit well with the 40-something fat-ass that rode past me, paused briefly at my speed, and literally screamed "BIIIIIIKE!!!" (or something, I really don't know) about two inches from my ear, no exaggeration. To be honest, the guy was lucky he didn't initiate some kind of combat related stress reaction and get the business end of a right cross; the guy seriously made my hair stand on end he screamed so loud. Let me be clear, I guess the guy was right in principle. But christ, is that really the way to achieve your educational goals? I mean, had the guy slowed up next to me and had a conversation with me, I might have felt a bit sheepish and stupid. As it was, I felt defensive and defiant. To say nothing of wanting to hunt that bastard down and throw the nearest, non-soft thing I could find at him.
Post-run on Friday, I began to feel a strange sort of sore-throaty sensation. This seemed really out of left field given that I haven't felt the slightest bit tired, congested or anything but great really. This continued for the next couple of days and included some fairly nasty phlegm; all of this led me to believe that I was suffering from some kind of crazy infection. The part that I could not explain was the complete lack of congestion or malaise that goes right along with it.
In any case, imagine someone putting their thumb on the base of your throat and leaning into you, and you have the general idea. Running wasn't exactly something that I was looking forward to and I decided to lay off for a few days until I felt better about it. Two days came and went, and frankly, I still didn't feel all that great and sensed little to no improvement. After getting up on Tuesday morning and spitting up a little blood, I decided it was Doctor time.
One of the best perks of being in the military is the "socialized" medicine. You make an appointment, you get seen, and then you get meds. Done deal. Yeah there are some slight inconveniences, but nothing I'd describe as a dealbreaker and for the most part, I get what I need when I visit (as has my family).
So I wandered over to the medical clinic assuming that I would be in and out with a packet of antibiotics in no time, only to find out that I was 100% wrong in my amateur analysis. According to the charismatic gentlemen in Army fatigues sporting the MD after his last name, I was likely to be suffering from Acid Reflux.
WTF? Acid Reflux? As my children were all to happy to question, "I thought that was for old people?". I suppose to some degree, so did I. I think what the good doctor surmised made sense; AR is the only thing that makes sense given that I have no other symptoms such as congestion or fever. So, I was given a packet of Prilosec and told to move out. Not exactly the way I thought my visit was going to go, that's for sure.
As for running, I got back on the horse today with a 7 miler. I purposely didn't take my watch as I didn't want to push the pace. I have a tendency to try and hit it harder than it needs to be hit and I knew my throat was not going to be happy if I did that. The sensation was just kind of bizarre; it felt as though my breathing was restricted but when I trusted my lungs to make it happen for me, they came through. I'm sure I managed an 830 pace after all, but jesus, here's hoping the old man medication kicks in sooner rather than later and allows my throat to heal up.
I decided to break into Homebrewing this past weekend.
But, as much as I like beer, that wasn't the goal. As many of my friends know, I have a tendency to go a little bit whacko with regards to my hobbies so my wife is decidedly grateful I haven't decided to brew my own beer. I'm sure she would have nightmares about some brewing mechanism taking over our garage like the Hive Queen's Lair in Aliens, its piping stretching over my poker table and hockey gear like some marriage killing hobby monster.
Instead I opted to try my hand at some homemade GU gel. Over the last month as my mileage has increased I have gotten more and more irritated at the notion of shelling out over a buck a pop for GU, Cliffshots, Hammergels or stinger packets. It just started to seem utterly ridiculous to me given that essentially all they consist of are carbs. So a little bit of research and some tinkering in the kitchen last week led to my home recipe that I hope some of you might make use of.
The first thing I realized, is that honey is already about an 85% solution. It really only lacks some sodium and potassium. Potassium is to sodium as vitamin D is to calcium, which is to say that in order for one to achieve its purpose the other must be present. Finding some sodium is obviously easy, just add some salt, but potassium was another matter. As it turns out, Molasses is a fantastic source of potassium and sodium. It also happens to be in about the right proportion for my purposes. Specifically, backstrap molasses is what we're looking for here. In addition, I found some brown rice syrup, which is LOADED with carbs and is typically used as a sugar replacement.
Before I discuss the final product however, let me discuss a few things that DIDN'T work.
I began with a honey base, and added some brown sugar and salt along with low heat on the stove. All was well thus far. I decided that because I was heading out the next day on a 20 miler and didn't have time to run to the store, I would try and make what I could with what was in the house. A blue form of Gatorade was therefore the best source of potassium I could find. Adding a little of that resulted in something I can only describe as a partially frozen and crystalized loogie that tasted like a half rancid otter pop. Fail. This thing was absolutely awful. I was disheartened.
The next stage of development included the same base, but I thought adding a shot of espresso would work better. No potassium, but it would be a quick fix solution in any case. I don't exactly have an espresso machine, but I do have one of these babies:
So essentially what I did was put the setting on espresso shot and hoped for the best. It actually came out okay, although I wouldn't consider it espresso. After adding it to the mixture though, the end-product was something like overly sweetened burnt coffee. For those that have ever been in the military and remember the condensed coffee that used to come in the tubes and was used to make the instant coffee in the field, you know exactly the flavor of which I speak. I decided that there was no way I was going to be able to choke this down during a run. Crash and burn.
So, after two successive failures I remained cautiously hopeful that I could salvage this disaster. The next day I went to my local Whole Foods and tried to get exactly what I needed. Here's what I managed to acquire:
1 Jar Local Honey
1 Jar Brown Rice Syrup
1 Jar Blackstrap Molasses
1 Cute Honey Bear of Honey (for testing purposes, the local honey is expensive yo)
Total cost: About 22 bucks (I could have knocked off a few bucks as I discovered that the local honey was available 3 dollars cheaper at my local farmer's market)
(Wifey recommended the local honey in an attempt to combat some allergies. To be honest, it seems to be working, whether it's a placebo effect or not I have no idea.)
So here was the final recipe and my review thereof:
Makes about 5 oz. or enough to fill up a small travel shampoo bottle.
My review? Well, there is no question that this stuff is sweet. I should also caveat this with the fact that the Army has provided me with an iron will where food is concerned. I love and appreciate fine food, but I can eat crap if crap is what is placed before me. That said, I thought this mixture was pretty tasty. It was MUCH better than any artificially flavored GU or energy gels I've had in the past. This, was success. The taste was a bit like a ginger snap cookie dipped in honey and well, me likey. The Brown rice syrup added a certain thickness that I don't think honey would have had on its own. I suppose I could have added a dash of salt too I suppose, but it seemed to me that the molasses had all of the sodium that I might need. I still intend to use an electrolyte tab of some kind so the carbs were the most important factor IMO.
As far as performance is concerned, I used it on a 12 mile run and really liked it. I felt no discernable difference between the homemade GU and real GU in terms of performance. As a result, I'm gonna stick with it. Oh and one more thing, I picked up some local raspberry syrup at the farmer's market that I may try to incorporate, more recipes to come in future posts.
Have you tried this yourself? Tried mine and loved it? Hated it? Lemme know.
Wow, I’m far later than I wanted to be with this post. Things got a bit crazy over the last week and something had to give. I didn’t exactly break my neck during the last week of the quarter (yes, the beloved quarter system of this grad school is fantastic thank you) but I didn’t feel comfortable banging out blog posts when I should have been finalizing projects. What I didn’t feel bad about was getting my miles in, which I was somehow able to do thanks in large part to a very understanding wife. (This is perhaps a post for another day, but the best possible training partner you can have is an understanding spouse who doesn’t feel it necessary to bust your chops about all of the time you're spending by yourself.) I also didn’t feel bad about another practice of mine, beer drinking.
Generally speaking, I have only a few habits that one might consider less than healthy and nearly quotidian. One of them is that I smoke a pipe. Not one with a water filtration device designed for the purpose of smoking the wacky tobacky, though I am not fundamentally opposed, but rather one that looks like this:
Another is that I like to drink beer. Not ridiculous amounts of it, although I find that as I get older I'm able to knock back a hell of a lot more than I was able to in my twenties without getting inebriated. I didn't really drink that much in my twenties and I don't really drink that much now, but I think my body has gotten quite a bit better at metabolizing the booze. (Then again I have the formal medical training of a high school aged babysitter, so take that for what it's worth.) In any case, I do like to have a couple in the evenings, but that has been tempered by my desire not to throw-up on myself during the run I might have planned for the next day, as illustrated by the equation:
The other factor that I am only now starting to experience is the rehydration issue. Many of my runs take place in the afternoon and I have to be conscious of my timing lest I start a beer waaaaaay too soon after knocking out a 10 mile run. This leads to a sort of cascade effect where I get this itchy kind of headache that won’t go away and lingers on until the next morning. I like to avoid taking painkillers but headaches are something that just drives me insane. I can deal with knee pain or back pain but headaches kick my ass beyond measure.
As for the fat factor, I’m a steady state 185lbs regardless of how hard I hit the gym anymore. I think at 33 years old I’ve finally gotten to the point where I am what I am unless I do something completely drastic like Crossfit + ultramarathon + super diet. I don’t particularly like to be miserable in EVERY phase of my life, so I think I should just be content with the old 185 number. My point here is that the beer does little to my weight, but it does affect my state of mind.
From what I can tell, my sleep patterns kind of go to crap after a few too many (perhaps 4 or more) and that in turn trashes my state of mind during the run. I hate being tired. Many of my Army buddies always talk about their “auto alarm clock” after so many years of getting up early . . .uh, not me. I’ll crash until 10 am every day if you let me.
So, in summation and based on virtually no valid scientific testing whatsoever, I might recommend the following: moderation. Shocker I know, but then again, it’s not advice you had to pay for either.
It occurred to me the other day that my blog, though fun to write and a helpful training log, lacks a discernable purpose. Things didn't really start out that way. When I began to write the idea was to give supporters of my Marine Corps Marathon fundraising goal a place to visit and hopefully, donate what they could to the cause, which was a good one. This worked fantastically well and I was able to raise over 1700 bucks and had a reasonably successful marathon. Life though, has a tendency to catch up with you and as a result, I let the blog simmer on the back burner, unsure if I would return to it.
Since then though, I have found that I really missed writing. The issue now is that I am attending graduate school and when I have time on my hands, the most effective use of it is to write something of substance for my thesis or some class designed to teach me how to be a better terrorist-finder-preventer guy. The result is me occasionally blowing off something important to write about drivel. I've made my peace with it.
The question remains though, what drivel should I focus on? In keeping with the graduate school theme and in homage to the fact that we are nearly crushed to death under a mountain of powerpoint slides on an almost daily basis, here is what I think this blog might be about:
I suppose if you're being analytical about it, and I'm sure there are some of you that are, you might take issue with the little bubbles on the outside overlapping one another and wonder what the relationship is there. I'm not sure there is one, but I didn't feel like resizing them. So there. That being said, there might be a relationship there, but it also doesn't mean that I can't write a post about a "frustrating-tool" even though the bubbles aren't connected in any way and I happen to attend school with quite a few.
At the end of the day, I believe this blog is about all of the above, with an emphasis on my hobbies but not exclusive to them. Does that about sum it up?