Thursday, January 28, 2010

Barefoot running good for the sole?

When it comes to technology, the general assumption is that it makes life easier for us as it advances.

Take running for example. Every year, shoe companies come out with a new foot companion complete with state-of-art-cushioning, innovative support and lord knows what else for technological advancements. Avid runners are led to believe that the right running shoe is almost as important as the running itself.

However, according to an article by the Associated Press, runners might be better off with some good ol' fashioned barefoot running.

Harvard biologist and avid runner Daniel Lieberman concluded from a study that people who grew up running barefoot tend to land on the front of their foot, which is considered the ideal landing spot for absorbing weight. The study also concluded that those who have always worn cushioned running shoes usually hit the ground heel first, generally considered a lazier (and higher injury risk) form of running. Landing heel-first relies on the cushioning within your shoe to absorb the weight rather than the muscles that are in your feet.

Dr. Pietro Tonino, chief of sports medicine at Loyola University in Chicago, backs up Lieberman's study with the information that the No. 1 injury he sees with runners is plantar fasciitis, a painful swelling that occurs on the bottom of the heel. Tonino himself even states that modern running shoes "work against evolution."

How profound were the results of the study? Profound enough where Lieberman himself actually converted to being a barefoot runner as a result of conducting it.

I found the article more than a little surprising. For one thing, the thought of running barefoot in Minnesota during the dead of winter is one that appeals to me about as much as running on broken glass. The wear and tear a foot goes through just from walking outside to get the mail is enough. Just imagine running a full marathon with bare feet!

For another, the article also goes against general convention when it comes to running and physical activity in general. Most of us own several pair of shoes for a variety of activities, be it soccer cleats, running shoes or basketball sneakers. This article argues that our shoe purchases may have been unnecessary, as the best remedy for proper running form is apparently our own evolution.

However, the article does make sense when you think about it. Humans ran barefoot for millions of years before the advent of running shoes. Native Kenyans, typically among the fastest distance runners in the world, grow up running barefoot and have textbook running form to show for their years of calloused feet.

This doesn't mean you should throw your Asics in the trash anytime soon. Lieberman states that switching from cushioned shoes to barefoot running carries with it a high probability of injury because your body has gotten used to running a certain way. There are shoes available that supposedly mimic the mechanics of barefoot running, but those carry the same risks, cost a fair amount and, in the words of my coworker, look like "gloves for your feet."

The biggest thing I took away from the article is that it reiterates a point that sometimes gets lost when it comes to running: Worry about your form, not about your shoes.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Taking the big step: registering for the race

Personal trainers will tell you that the hardest part of getting into an exercise routine is getting that first workout under your belt.

I won't disagree with that notion. It takes a lot of effort to change your habits and talk your body into a new routine. The first time exercising after a long relapse can be about as fun as pulling teeth for even the most seasoned of workout junkies.

However, allow me to introduce a close second on the difficulty scale for getting into a workout routine: signing up for that tough race.

The race doesn't have to be anything special. It can be a 2-mile run, a 5K, a mini triathlon, a wheel chair race, a crab walk race, whatever. All that matters is that it's a race that will challenge your abilities and force you to train for it to some degree. That way, by signing up for it, you're setting a goal to shoot for and pushing yourself beyond your comfort level to reach that goal.

Registering for a race is a huge step. It means that you've committed yourself financially to that race and feel almost obligated to get in shape for it as a result of that commitment. Nobody wants to spend money on something to give a half-hearted effort, right?

Anyone can talk about running a race, but very few actually follow through with it. The reasons for for a person backing out of it endless. Maybe they can't find a friend to train with or run the race with. Maybe they just don't have the time for it. Maybe they don't want to put their body through the abuse. Maybe they'd rather spend their money on something else.

Whatever the case, consider yourself in the minority if you actually work up the ambition to sign up for a race. By signing up, you've pushed yourself beyond the talking phase and are one step closer to actually competing in the race.

I bring this up because yesterday, after spending the last three months training and the last several weeks talking myself into it, I finally registered for Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, thus committing $90 of my own money to run a 26.2 mile race this summer.

"Do I really want to put myself through this again?" I thought to myself. "Wasn't one marathon enough? It took a week to walk normally after the first one for God sakes!"

I literally spent an hour contemplating this while staring at the registration Web page of Grandma's. Heck, it took me two weeks just to work up the courage to LOOK at the registration page. I've ran my fair share of races, but I still get weak in the knees when I think about running a full marathon.

My first marathon went well, but it challenged me physically and mentally in a way that I'd never been challenged before. It exhausted me in all ways possible. It was as if my brain had just gone through college finals week and my legs had just been run over by a bus.

Alas, the ambitious side of me (or masochistic side, depending on your interpretation) won over and I signed myself up for another five months of long runs, ice packs and Ibuprofen. But it'll all be worth it when I cross the finish line on the North Shore, find my friends and go out and celebrate a race well-ran.

I'd say that's a good use of $90.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Upcoming race in St. James

The 4th Annual Freeze Your Caboose Off 4-mile race will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 31 at St. James Lake. Registration for the event is available now by mailing this form. Otherwise, race-day registration begins at 12:30 p.m. at the Hickory Inn in St. James. Cost for the event is $16 if registered by Jan. 23 (this Saturday), and $20 after that. For more information, contact the St. James Chamber of Commerce at 375-3333 or e-mail them at

Apologies to readers for not posting information about this earlier. I didn't know anything about the race until receiving an invitation to it yesterday via the Greater Mankato Multisport Club on Facebook.

All indications point to it being a fun little local race, complete with door prizes, soup and crackers at the finish line for runners. It also seems pretty laid-back for a 4-mile race, with an alternate starting time offered for those who would rather walk than run. The weather isn't exactly ideal yet for outdoor racing (ice, anyone?), but at the very least, it should be a fun race around the lake and a good opportunity to see some diehard winter runners.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mankato race calendar

Anyone tired of having to Google search every race they plan on participating in will appreciate this.

I have made upcoming races (road races, duathlons, triathlons etc) in the Mankato area accessible on the right side of my blog, with the dates of the events and links to their appropriate Web sites. Some of the links are merely to the organizer's site, as the they either haven't set up online registration or don't intend to. Some of the events are also pretty far in advance (9 months to go until the Mankato Marathon!), but since I'm a race-finding junkie, I figured I might as well put my searching talent to good use and make it easier for everyone else.

If anyone finds local events not listed on the side, please let me know via comments or e-mail ( so that I can add them to the calendar.


Friday, January 15, 2010

The 300-mile club and how my perception of running has changed over time

Admittedly, I didn't think much of cross country runners when I was in high school.

I was a football player, and as a football player, I avoided long-distance running like the plague. The farthest we had to run at a time was 100 yards in practice, and we liked it that way. We figured anyone could run, but it took a real man to put on shoulder pads and lay a hit on someone.

The cross country team at my high school had an incentive program over the summer called the "300-mile club," which was exactly what it sounded like. Runners would have the summer months to try and log 300 miles of running before the fall season began, with those who reached the mark being honored by the coaching staff during the season.

I didn't think much of the 300 club at the time. My time in those summers was divided between hanging out with friends and weightlifting with the football team. The only thing the 300 club meant to us football folk was that the cross country runners would be out on the running trail all summer rather than taking up space in the weight room.

Why would we ever go running for fun? Would that help our numbers go up in bench press and squats? Would the football coach guarantee us a spot in the starting lineup if we ran a 5k everyday? Doubtful.

Fast-forward to the present day, and I no longer look at 300-mile club as a useless number in a sport I could care less about. Instead, I see it as a viable benchmark to shoot for when training for a goal as lofty as running a marathon. Running has gone from being a pointless afterthought for me to a blossoming, albeit painful, hobby.

I decided to take this trip down high school memory lane because after my 8-mile jaunt on Friday, I officially pushed my training total up over the 300-mile mark, sitting at 307 miles after 12 weeks. It's nothing special mile-wise compared to some of the more diligent runners out there. But for a guy who used to not be able to run a mile without his asthma kicking in, it's not exactly chopped liver.

It's also a little late for me to be included in the 300-mile club for dedicated Sartell High School cross country runners. My 5-year high school reunion has come and gone and I'm fairly certain that the cross country coach at Sartell wouldn't recognize me unless it was in the context of the broom ball we used to play in his gym class.

However, given the way I used to feel about cross country runners and long-distance running in general, I feel it merits mentioning how much my perception of running has changed over time.

I have a newfound respect for cross country runners and an admiration for what they have to put their bodies through to get ready for races. Runners fight through soreness, fatigue and outright pain to reach their weekly mile totals. It may never draw the crowd that football draws, but long distance running is a sport that requires hard work, toughness and dedication in its own right.

And with 21 weeks to go until Grandma's Marathon, here's to hoping that the 300-mile mark is just the first of many mileage milestones I'll be passing in the next few months.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Running outside & Mankato Marathon update

While high temperatures in the 20s and 30s will never be considered a tropical heat wave, by Minnesota-in-January standards, it's close enough.

Temperatures for the rest of the week are supposed to rise into the 30s, with highs possibly topping out in the 40s, a far cry from the recent trend of -10 and -20 degree days we've been enduring lately. This bodes well for outdoor enthusiasts, as runners are starting to make their way off the treadmills and onto to the running paths. Some cyclists are even starting to break their bikes out of hibernation.

With temperatures rising into the teens yesterday, I decided to ditch the treadmill routine and join the outdoor running crowd. My ambition got worked up from reading other marathon training blogs on how runners train through snow storms and run up mountains regardless of weather conditions (I know, I know, insert 'Rocky' montage here, right?). Plus I figured I was going to have to get used to outdoor running eventually.

The run was far from ideal. I slipped and fell at the start of the run, probably much to the delight of passing pedestrians. I also had to run with short strides and step gingerly due to multiple ice patches, had to run without music because my iPod and cold weather don't get along, and had to cut the run short at 5 miles because they haven't plowed the Red Jacket Trail past Mount Kato yet. I probably could have gotten a much more comprehensive workout if had just ran on a treadmill at the Y instead.

Still, it felt good to run outside again.

Mankato Marathon update:
According to race director Mark Bongers, the event's Web site is still under construction but should be completed by the end of January. On it will be registration info, training plan options, pricing structures and course maps.

As far as course routes go, all three races -- full marathon, half marathon, 10k race -- have been preliminarily approved by the city and the police department. However final approval and course permits are still required and the marathon course still needs U.S.A. Track & Field certification to make it a sanctioned Boston Marathon qualifier.

Bongers said the three courses are generally the same as they were explained during the marathon runners forum in January, during which he described them as the following:

  • Half Marathon: From Stadium road, take a right onto Monks Ave, follow until County Road 90, take a right onto the South Bend bike trail, follow the trail until it connects with the Red Jacket Trail, follow the Red Jacket Trail back to the YMCA, Take a left on Riverfront Drive, run through Sibley Park and cut back towards the Verizon Center via the bike trail along the Minnesota River and Front Street.
  • Full Marathon: Same start as the half marathon, but take a left on County Road 90. From there, follow County Road 90 across Highway 22, take a left on County Road 83, follow County Road 83 until it turns into South Victory Drive, take a left onto Balcerzak Drive, take a left onto Monks Ave and once out to County Road 90, follow the half marathon course to the finish line.
  • 10K: Bongers would like it to follow Stadium Road down to Stoltzman, where it would then cut down to Riverfront and make its way over to the Verizon center from there.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Awkwardness, thy name is Pilates

Getting out of your comfort zone is an important step in adding new elements to your workout routine. It helps you think outside the box and breath some life into your exercise schedule.

Doing the same old exercises everyday gets to be monotonous over time, and monotony is the first step toward burning yourself out when it comes to exercising.

We all fall into that trap once in awhile. I found myself stuck in that rut earlier this week, as my workout routine got into the habit of running and weightlifting, but little else. Granted, a routine is important when setting long-term fitness goals like my Grandma's Marathon proclamation. But when a routine gets boring, it's time to switch it up.

Enter free Pilates classes. The YMCA has been offering free samples of various fitness classes throughout the week and, being the curious workout enthusiast that I am, decided this was a golden opportunity to 'broaden my horizons' in a fitness sense.

I attended two classes over the course of the week. Not quite as ambitious as I would've liked in terms number of classes, but scheduling conflicts, in addition to me not wanting to wake up at 5 in the morning, conspired to keep my attendance modest. Here is how those classes went:

Tuesday: Power Pilates
I had the choice between cycling and Pilates classes to attend during my dinner break that day. I chose Pilates because it was the one I knew the least about and the one whose emphasis (core and flexibility) was most important to me for marathon training purposes. I also figured the title "Power Pilates" indicated that the class would be geared toward strength training or some other form of masculine exercising (my co-worker referred to it as "hunting" instead of Pilates). Looking back, my estimation was a little off.

I managed to talk a co-worker into attending it with me so I wouldn't feel THAT out of place (his name will be ommitted for the sake of sparing him any embarassment). But even with a familiar face, there were a couple factors that made the experience as awkward as it was strenuous:
  • The class was considered an advanced Pilates class, meaning that the exercises and positions used were meant for people that had already been through several sessions of Pilates. Combine that with the discovery that my body isn't flexible in a Pilates sense, and you can imagine how that went. I'm fairly certain that the jaws of life wouldn't have been able to make my body bend and twist to the instructor's liking. I spent most of the session just trying to get the breathing down -- a major aspect of Pilates -- rather than trying to contort myself into a pretzel shape.
  • Aside from my coworker and I, there were only two other people in attendance at the class, both of which considereable more schooled in Pilates than us. Although they were both friendly and cordial, that didn't prevent us from feeling like we were holding up their class, which is never a good feeling to have, especially when you're trying something new. The instructor was patient with us, but mindset of intrusion was hard to get past.
Despite the awkwardness. There were a few positives I took away from the class. For one thing, I learned that timing your breathing is a major factor when it comes to stretching. For another, the class gave me a few ideas for new stretches I will try to employ in my daily routine.
Lastly, the class served as an eye-opener to the notion that I'm not nearly as flexible as I need to be. I don't see Pilates becoming a regular routine for me, but I do plan on putting a bigger emphasis on stretching in the future.

Wednesday: Cycling Pilates
I'll start by saying that I've never been a big advocate of cycling classes. Call me old fashioned, but I'm too big of a fan of outdoor biking to spend much time on an exercise bike. I've always seen cycling as a means of exploring and traveling as much as it is a form of exercise. With an exercise bike, the exploring aspect of it gets taken away and you're left with a low-impact, albeit effective, form of cardio.

I'm also something of a biking hobbyist. I've gone on biking trips across the state and seen a lot of cool things with my road bike. But with exercise bikes, my most enduring memory was how I used to study for exams while riding them in college. I know they're an effective training tool, but I've never been big on using them as such.

That being said, the class still appealed to me because it was going on during my dinner break and offered me further work with Pilates. I figured at the very least, I'd meet some new people, learn some new stretches and get a solid 30 minutes of cardio in, all while getting away from work for awhile.

This class wound up being considerably less awkard for me. The cycling portion of it was pretty easy for me to get through, as I spent more time biking this summer than I'd care to admit and my body's pretty used to the cardio required for it.

Although I couldn't talk my co-worker into doing it with me -- I'm assuming he had enough with the one day of Pilates -- the other people in the class were relatively close to my age and fairly new to Pilates as well. This helped me feel a lot less out of place than the previous day. The instructor was also pretty easy going, as he was pretty conversational on the topics of running and racing -- both hobbies of mine -- and his cycling music included such '80's classics as "Funkytown" and "Come on Eileen."

It also didn't hurt that the Pilates was a lot more basic than the previous day. Rather than just focusing on the breathing, I was actually able to get some good stretching in and at least attempt most of the exercises. My flexibility was still lacking, but like Tuesday's class, it helped open me up to some different stretches I can try to work into my routine in the future.

The class wasn't without it's awkwardness. I didn't really know anybody else in the class and I was also the only guy in attendance aside from the instructor -- not exactly a booster to my masculinity. I also didn't take much out of the cycling portion of the class, as proper cycling technique and knowing how to push yourself on a hill are things that can be learned from going on bike rides regularly. It was a good workout and well instructed, but I didn't really learn anything new from it.

However, like Tuesday's class, I found the class enjoyable in spite of its awkwardness and generally just had fun stepping out of my comfort zone for a little while. It may not have been as good of a workout as a 10-mile run, but at least it served as a welcome break from routine.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The only thing better than fitness classes are FREE fitness classes

If your New Years resolution was to broaden your health & fitness horizons, next week at the YMCA should be a fun one for you.

From Jan. 4-Jan. 9, the Y will be offering free samples of various fitness classes ranging from cycling to yoga to Pilates. The free classes run at all times of the day, so there is little to be concerned with in terms of fitting it into your schedule.

Presumably, the free sampling is being done to spur interest in the classes among YMCA members. Considering the rush of New Years resolution-makers to the gym lately, the Y's timing could not be better. New Years has always been a time of new beginnings and trying new things, and the free classes offer an easy (and frugal) way to achieve that.

I for one will be making a note to try out as many classes as possible next week. I'm all about trying new things, but the thought of paying for fitness classes when I could just as easily work out on my own has always been a detriment to broadening my horizons. With the classes being free, I can step out of my comfort zone without lightening my wallet.

So congratulations YMCA, you finally got me to attend a Pilates class. Bravo.

Here's the schedule of all the free sample classes offered next week. Paper copies of the schedule can also be picked up at the Y.