Minimalist running

Reposting something I wrote for Pinoy Fitness last month (with some minor updates) . . .

During one drinking session with a college buddy of mine, he introduced me to the book “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougall. There I learned about barefoot running. I heard about barefoot running through famous athletes like Abebe Bikila and Zola Budd, but I dismissed the technique as mere eccentricities. According to McDougall, the modern running shoe, which was invented by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, had conditioned runners to run in an inefficient manner by landing on their heels. McDougall continues to elaborate that the heel was not anatomically designed to absorb hundred of pounds of force, that landing on the heel puts an immense amount of stress on other parts of the body, and that the midsole—i.e., the arch of the middle foot—is nature’s greatest shock absorber. An arch is supposed to be stronger as more weight is placed on it. So instead of wearing running shoes that forced you to run on your heels, why not switch to shoeless running or running with minimalist gear and adopt a more natural, midsole running gait?

At first I seriously doubted the claim, but somehow the thought-process seemed logical. And there was some scientific research to back it up.

Now I am sold on the concept. Nowadays, I rarely use traditional running shoes. I am not, strictly speaking, a barefoot runner. I describe myself more as a minimalist runner. I am a proud owner of not one but two Vibram Five Finger shoes—a black KSO (my friends describe it as the “Gollum Shoes”) and the Bikila LS. The latter is what I use for my running. As much as I would like to run sans any kind of footwear, I am hesitant to go totally barefoot for fear that I may step on screws or shards of broken glass and injure my feet. The Vibrams are like gloves for your feet. They do protect you from whatever debris is lying on the ground. They have shops in Shoemart MOA and Rockwell. They are extremely light and comfortable. The only problem is that they really look silly.

One thing is for sure: it will alter your form in running. You can’t land on your heel. It is too painful to heel-strike. I read that this shift from heel strike to forefoot strike may not come automatically and that some may take as long as 6 weeks to adjust. For me the shift happened just after just a few meters, except mine was more of a shift to a more midfoot strike. My stride also naturally shortened, landing closer to the vertical plane of my body, and I was taking more steps. There are many sites that claim that a shorter, faster stride (to the tune of 180 strides a minute) is less stressful and thus can help avoid injury. The trick, they say, is to imagine yourself running on a bed of hot coals—your feet should barely touch the earth and even before they do, you should already be preparing to push forward. And did I feel any after-effects? With traditional shoes, I would normally feel pain in my hips after a run, a pain that at times would cause me to toss and turn in my sleep, looking for the right position to ease that discomfort. But since I switched to minimalist shoes, the pain miraculously disappeared.

The run itself was literally pain-free. I felt no jarring shock to the joints. The sensation was, in fact, quite soothing to the soles, very similar to that of those reflexology sandals. Moreover, running felt more stable with minimalist shoes. When I would run with heavily padded shoes, I felt my legs wobble. With minimalist shoes, I felt the ground. I felt every crack and indentation. And yes my mind would react with an internal “Ouch!” when I would step on a few loose pebbles, but that mild pinprick sensation was fleeting and dissipated as soon as I took the next few steps.

Many barefoot pundits claim that there is no proof that heavily-padded, so-called high-tech running shoes protect you from injuries. And there are a few scientific studies that can attest to this. Many experts are now questioning and challenging the marketing claims of the big running shoe manufacturers. Check out the story of Reebok, whom the FTC investigated for the shoe company’s allegedly false claims that its toning shoes and other products strengthened muscles.

It was about February when I first wrote about barefoot/minimalist running at my blog. Back then, I was relatively new to minimalist running. I had described the experience as mystical and holistic as well as raw and primal. Since then I have run in various 10Ks and 21Ks—even the latest Run United 32K—in Vibrams.  I am now afraid of running in anything else but Vibrams. Gone is that feeling of tenderness in my sole that I had described. I feel lighter and more comfortable. Indeed it felt more natural and, just as the book said, the way I was born to run.


Accumulated fatigue

I was reading through this interesting post.

Recent research has shown that your body doesn’t see a significant increase in training benefits after running for 3-hours. The majority of physiological stimulus of long runs occurs between the 90 minute and 2:30 mark. This means that after running for 3 hours, aerobic benefits (capillary building, mitochondrial development) begin to actually stagnate or decline instead of getting better. So, a long run of over 3 hours builds about as much fitness as one lasting 2 hours and 30 minutes.

The post then goes on the suggest the concept of “accumulated fatigue.”

By adding a steady run the day before the long run, you can simulate late race fatigue without having to run the full distance and teach your body how to finish strong and fast.

Interesting approach.  And one that may fit well with my schedule.  It’s tough to squeeze in a 3 hour run.  It may be easier for me to string a one-hour “steady run” followed by a much-longer run.   in case I am lacking in motivation, I can actually signup for a 21K run and run a 10K the day before that event.



More info on the Corregidor International Half-Marathon

I am sure there are people who have questions regarding the Corregidor International Half-Marathon.  What are the logistics?  The accomodations?  The ferry trip?

Here is some info as provided by the organizers.  This was taken from the email that you should receive after you register.

Race Registration inclusions:

  • Roundtrip ferry to and from Corregidor
  • Full lunch buffet on race day
  • Race bib w/ RFID timing chip
  • 2011 CIHM Race singlet
  • 2011 CIHM Race sling bag
  • 2011 CIHM Finisher’s Medallion (or a 10k Achiever Medal)
  • R.O.X. Runners’ Briefing (Dec 3 and 4)
  • 2011 CIHM Champions Party featuring a top band back-to-back with a rave party (Dec 10, Saturday night)
  • 2011 CIHM Finisher’s Certificate

Ferry and Room Reservations Procedures:

1) After completing registration for the race, immediately contact Sun Cruises at 8346857/8346858/5275555 loc 4511 or 4512 to book for your ferry trip schedules.

2) Indicate the desired trip schedule:

From Manila to Corregidor

a) Overnight – departure on Dec 9 @ 11:00am
b) Day trip – departure on Dec 10 @ 5:00am

Return from Corregidor to Manila

a) departure on Dec 10 @ 2:30pm and 5:30pm
b) departure on Dec 11 @ 2:30pm

3) If applicable, make accommodations reservation with Sun Cruises (only registered participants will be given reservations; 1 room per participant only). Pay the appropriate accommodations booking amount through the payment mode advised by Sun Cruises.

4) On Dec 3 & 4 (as advised through email and text by the organizers) at R.O.X., attend the Runners’ Briefing, pick-up the race pack, and claim the Boarding Pass and/or Accommodations Booking ticket from Sun Cruises. Ensure to bring the printout of your CIHM Race Registration Confirmation. Anyone may pick up your kit at R.O.X. during the R.O.X Runners’ Briefing from 3pm to 8pm. They may be asked for identification and your signed authorization note.

Signed up for the Corregidor Half Marathon!

Corregidor International Half Marathon (CIHM) 2011 poster

I’ve signed up, paid the fee, and booked the trip.  I’m running the Corregidor International Half-Marathon!

This is one race that I am really looking forward to. Besides the fact that this will be my first out-of-town run, it’ll be through the scenic and historic island of Corregidor.  Based on the concept paper, I know this will be a challenging run, with a combination of “paved uphill and downhill slopes and intermittent segments of dirt trails,” and I don’t expect to set any PRs in this course.   They claim to be “the toughest foot race in the country in terms of the course and technical rules,” with 3 “curfew points:”  you have to reach the 5K point in at most 45 minutes, 10K in at most 1 hour 35 mins, and 15K point in at most 2 hours 30 minutes.  I should be able to reach these curfew points so no worries there.

If you want to register, click here.

What I learned from a 32K

The 32K was meant to be the prelude to my first-ever marathon run. It represented my farthest run. I don’t think I could’ve run for more than 3 hours by myself. And, as mentioned at the Run United site, the 32-kilometer mark is the point where marathon runners encounter the dreaded “wall.”

My 32K didn’t go as planned. There were a couple of things I got right—I wasn’t intimidated by runners who were overtaking me, I was taking advantage of the hydration stations and consuming energy gels at regular intervals.   My average pace in a half-marathon was 6.5 minutes per kilometer. I figured I could run a 7-minute pace. I guess I over-estimated myself. I was able to average a 7-minute pace for at about the 25-kilometer mark, but then I crashed at the last two kilometers. It wasn’t my stamina that gave in; my legs weighed me down.  There was no juice in them.

Maybe it was because I lacked sufficient training?  I checked my training log.  My last long run, a 2-hour slow run that covered just 16.75 kilometers, was on October 30.  But after that I just had 4 short runs.   I don’t know if that was enough mileage, but I think I have to begin logging in some serious distance running!

Here are the other things I learned in the 32K and should note in preparing for the 42K:

  • My other mistake was the same mistake I made when I started off on a distance that I have never run before.  I would start out strong, brimming with confidence and filled with motivation, only to crash and burn at the final kilometers.  This happened to me when I first ran a 10K.  It happened to me in my initial foray at the 21K.  I should realize that 32K (and my upcoming 42K) is a long, long, LONG run.  I have to pace myself and maybe steel myself for the final 5K.  The goal should be to finish; a decent time should be secondary.  Note to self: run at a pace where I can finish, not a pace where time is important.
  • I should bring enough water.  In the 21K runs, I would only bring one 500ml bottle of water, and more often than not I wouldn’t open it during the run.  It would serve as my post-race thirst-quencher.  However, in the 32K, the hydration stations ran out of water.  I guess it was because I was towards the bottom-half—or maybe even the bottom-third—of the pack.  So I relied on my sole 500ml water supply.  It was enough to get me through the finish line, but if this was a marathon, I may have ended up parched and dried-mouth.  Note to self: don’t rely on hydration stations as their supplies may run out; bring three bottles of water.
  • I really didn’t pay attention to the risk of chafing.  But somewhere during the 32K, my armpits became sore.  It was rubbing against the seam of my singlet.  And when I took a shower, raw blistering pain shot out of my inner thighs.  Note to self: check the singlet for raised seams, and remember to use Vaseline or a similar lotion.
  • I need to respect the “wall.”  When I ran the 21K, most of my efforts were aimed towards avoiding the wall.  I guess it will be inevitable in a marathon.  I guess the trick will be to postpone that event as late as possible.  If I hit the wall in the 32-kilometer mark, that means I will have to struggle for more than an hour.   Breaking the wall is part physical but it is also part mental.  I need to build mental fortitude.  In the last 5K I was focusing on my body, on the pain I felt in my hips, calves, and shins, impatiently counting down the kilometers.  Maybe this technique heightened my sense of fatigue?  Note to self: I need more dissociative techniques—maybe imagining myself in a beach or in a hot tub.

One thing I need to do: between today and February (my scheduled marathon run), I have run another run that is longer than a 21K.  Maybe a 25K or a 32K in January.  I’ve been checking the running sites for run schedules but couldn’t find such a race.  If there are no such races, then I have to do such a run by myself.

My pre-race checklist

One week before

  • Check energy gels.  Purchase if necessary

Day before

  • Pack towel and extra shirt in bag
  • Prepare singlet, bib, running belt, running shoes.  Attach timing chip onto shoe.
  • Load stuff into car
  • Put sports drinks in fridge
  • Make sure that I have bananas and yogurt for breakfast the next day
  • Have a hearty dinner
  • Set alarm
  • Charge iPhone
  • Recheck run schedule and route map

Upon waking up

  • Do the necessary biological functions
  • Have light breakfast—normally bananas and yogurt
  • Hydrate

At race site

  • Warm up with light running
  • Bathroom break
  • Setup iPhone (I use Runkeeper to track my distance and time)