Tag Archives: marathon runners

barefoot running

Pumped up Kicks: Is barefoot running for me?

No this blog isn’t about Foster the People, or songs that are good to run to.  (I will say though right now I am digging: Young Blood by The Naked and Famous, Sail by Awolnation, Somebody that I Used to Know by Gotye, and Frankenstein by Tokyo Police Club)  This blog is my opinion on barefoot running.

Today I got a new pair of pumped up kicks!  I’m super excited about them.  I spend the majority of my day on feet thus I have Shoes for Neuropathy, Jogging, Workingout and even for my Zumba classes.  Being the multi-tasker I am I feel I should be doing something positive for my body while I work. Wearing minimalist shoes while walking, working, cross training, and strength training is great for your body.  They make you recruit more muscles in your arches, calves, and glutes to support your bones structure.

barefoot running

My new Nike Frees! Thank you Norman!

So do I support Barefoot running you might ask?

That is a tricky question.  I do know it can be done right, I doubt the average person can do it right.  I don’t believe women can run long distance long term with a barefoot stride.  So what does that all mean?

I doubt the average person can do it right because of the patience required to completely rebuild from scratch.  No that doesn’t mean starting a training routine barefoot.  It means forcing yourself to decrease your mileage and speed slowly building up from less that a mile at a much slower pace very gradually over time.  I do know one runner who has done that.  (Props to you Adam Depue!)  Most runners, however, I don’t think have this patience.  If you want to prove me wrong, I will greatly credit your determination and patience!

Women on the other hand is another argument.  I do not know a runner who have done it.  They have all developed an injury at some point.  If there is someone out there who is female and has been running consistently injury free I would love to hear about it and chat with you.  I do not think this is a common case.

Born to run will argue about how our ancestors ran barefoot.  Obviously able to not only run, but also provide food by hunting and gathering in minimalist footware.  There are some holes I could punch in this argument (arguing life-expectancy for example), but I won’t.  I will give them props in saying their argument point to how sedentary we have become as a society.  If we were to go back to our ancestors example we would be stronger for it.  I do feel we could all be stronger by wearing “barefoot” shoes more often–why I got them for cross training and work!

What Born to Run won’t talk about is WHO those hunters and gathers were.  They weren’t women.  They were men.  Those were the tradition barbaric roles.  At a more scientific level, it also won’t talk about the Q angle.

barefoot running

Women’s hips are wider on average then mens.  This is so we can bare children, but it also puts our knees under greater pressure in sport (or hunting and gathering in prehistoric times.)  This is also why women are at greater risk for tearing their acl in sports like soccer.  Sharp cutting can tear the acl of woman who hasn’t built up her stability muscles much easier than her male counterpart athlete.  If a woman doesn’t have proper arch support she will be predispositioned to develop runners knee much quicker than a male would simply by her anatomy.

Long story short, barefoot runners beware.  I respect those of you who have had the patience to develop the musculature needed to support this.  I am weary of those I know aren’t strong enough to do it.  I will, however, proudly sport my barefoot shoes anytime I’m not running!

Check out good prices for Nike Frees!

patting your head and rubbing your belly

Patting your head and rubbing your belly

patting your head and rubbing your belly

Do you remember that grade school trick to pat your head and rub your belly?  It always starts by one kid come to school on Monday having learned it over the weekend.  By the end of recess every kid is walking back into class patting their head and rubbing their belly.  Tricks like this involve complex motor pathways.  It probably took you a couple tries (or maybe more for some of us….I’m not the most coordinated person, I’m just the most stubborn, refusing to give up til I get it!)  Once you got it, it became easy.  That is of course until flash forward 20 years from then your child comes home from school patting their head and rubbing their belly with a tummy wrap.   Then when you try to show them you could do it too, it didn’t come so easy again.

That is what training running form is all about.  With patting your head and rubbing your stomach you have 2 variables, circle motion vs. tap and left vs. right hand.  Running involves endless more body parts (arms, legs, head, core, butt, knees, ect, ect!), different types of terrain, different weather, and not to mention all the other countless variables (being sick, tired, hungry, too full, too heavy , too skinny, hot, cold, ect ect!)  How can you keep that coordination trick right without practicing it ALL THE TIME!

The cool thing about learning coordinated movements is that it helps our neural functioning.  Just like crossword puzzles have been shown to keep minds sharp; complex movements also build neural connections through out the brain and body.  These added neural connections make you sharper not only in your movements while running and otherwise, but also in those meetings later on during your day and challenging discussions with your teenagers who seem to have gotten so “smart” all of a sudden 😉

So don’t skip form day.  You don’t want to be that person who is actually just RUBBING their head and RUBBING their tummy.


Treadmill (n.): A Good Tool for Speedwork

Treadmill (n.): A torture device perfected in the 20th century, designed to destroy one’s mind though sensory deprivation and monotony. -Mark Remy Runnersworld.com executive editor, in The Runners’ Rule Book

Mark Remy is right, the treadmill is a torture device!  We should try to do most of our runs outside.  Get out on trails, run down by a river, even around your block! (at least you will be getting vitamin d!)….But the treadmill can be a great tool when it comes to speedwork.  (…and a great way to save your feet from blisters if you live in the PNW!)


Why do I need to do speedwork you might ask?

A couple reasons:

1.  It will make you faster.  When you do intervals you deplete your muscles of energy (pushing near your lactate threshold), then recover allowing your body to begin to rebuild your energy stores with aerobic metabolism.  As you do this more and more, your body becomes more efficient at removing the waste caused by harder working muscles and begins to build more mitochondria (those bacteria that live inside your muscles that eat CO2!).  This allows you to maintain higher speeds.  This is important for those of you who have PR times you would like to hit.

2.  For those of you who don’t care about your time, intervals will make your body more efficient at making energy, therefore making your “normal” pace feel much easier.  This will make marathon or 1/2 marathon day more enjoyable.

3.  For reasons outside of racing, intervals have also been shown to burn fat better.  Intervals leave you with a larger need to produce energy post workout.  This will lead the body to tap into your fat stores to make that energy both during recovery and post workout.–Don’t think you can eat a more because of this.  This only works if you stick to your normal diet!

4.  Finally intervals have been shown to boost your HDL (the good cholesterol).  This cholesterol combined with an elevated heart rate sends rushing blood through the arteries cleansing them by removing plague build-up caused by LDL. This bad cholesterol is sent to the liver where the liver can break it down.  This will help prevent heart attacks so you can outlive all your friends!–AND EAT ALL THAT STEAK!! 😉


What’s your favorite speedwork workout?

Running Physiology, How We Become Better Runners

How is it that I can go from not being able to run 3 miles to being able to complete a marathon?  What is going on during training that makes what used to be my hard speed during intervals my now normal pace?  Before I begin to explain some of the running physiology that occurs in our bodies during our training to make us better, faster runners I must first explain what an adaptive process is.  Our bodies are not in constant equilibrium.  There are continuous changes in our environment that our bodies must learn to adapt to.  Lucky for us, these reactions are hardwired into our DNA.  They are occur automatically without us needing thinking about them.


When is gets cold, our internal core temperature lowers.  This signals our vessels to constrict shutting off blood flow to our limbs to help maintain core temperature.  (That is why hands and feet get cold so fast.  Cold is a “stressor” or stimulus passively distorting our bodies’ normal equilibrium.  These stressors stimulate specific physiologic responses. An acute stress will stimulate a short term response usually in our central nervous system.  (Think heart rate increasing, blood pressure going up or down, sweat starting to pool)  Over time (think weeks to months) repeated or continuous stress will trigger organ function changes (think hormonal changes and process changes.  Did you know that 2-3 days at altitude will stimulate the kidneys to leave more CO2 in the bloodstream in response to continuous elevated breathing?  Remember it is increased CO2 that tells us to breathe faster not a lack of O2)  These organ functional changes lead to tissue and structural changes (also know as Genotypic Adaptation–you may have heard of Darwin, survival of the fittest)

Running Physiology, The Adaptations:

You may have heard that as we endurance train, one of the major adaptations that occurs in our bodies is that we build more mitochondria within our Type I (fatigue resistant highly oxidative muscle fibers.)  Mitochondria are little bacteria that have developed a symbiotic relationship with our bodies.  We keep these bacteria alive by our waste byproducts (they feed off of CO2) and they help us maintain long term exercise. (They are a major part of aerobic metabolism helping provide our working muscles with O2.)

One thing you may not know is that as we endurance train, we also increase our blood plasma volume.  Why does this help us?  It helps us because it allows us to maintain our cardiac output with a lower heart rate, meaning if we work to maintain our heart rate at the high level we are used to working at we will be running faster!

What is cardiac output?

Cardiac output (ml or L)= Stroke volume (ml/min) * Heart rate (beats/min)  …..We will return to this now let’s focus on what happens when our bodies endurance train.

Endurance training raises our core temperature.  Our bodies are dumb.  They don’t distinguish why core temperature raised, just that is elevated.  Therefore, heat stressors (a very hot day) and exercise have similar physiological responses.  (There are some added benefits that we get purely from exercise, however, training in a hot environment will have a greater effect on increasing one’s blood plasma volume.)

running physiology

What does this all mean???

So why is this important?  Why will more blood plasma volume help me run?  First off, you may have realized running makes you sweat.  When you sweat you sweat out water from your blood plasma (you don’t sweat out the red blood cells which is why your sweat isn’t red!)  When this happens our blood becomes thicker leaving less of it to travel to our working muscles.  This makes our stroke volume lower (stroke volume is the amount of blood our hearts pump per beat) therefore to maintain cardiac output our hearts need to beat faster = tiring faster.  If we increase our blood plasma volume we will not only have a much larger stroke volume to start with, but we will also be able to maintain our stroke volume as we begin to sweat.  (You will also notice as we get into better shape we sweat faster.  This is because we have more fluid we can spare and we become more efficient at starting this process because our bodies are better attuned to responding tothe “stressor”.)

Wow that was a lot…trust me I don’t think I have had to explain that since I gave the lab presentation 4 years ago it was a mouthful!  So what do we take from this?  What are the best ways to improve your running physiology?

1.  Drink lots of water post workout.  If we don’t give the body water right away we will not take advantage of the physiological adaptations we will become dehydrated and the further we get away from our workout the less intense the rate of absorption becomes.

2.  Heat can stimulate the same effect.  It causes 40% of the response so sitting in the sauna, steam room, running in the heat, or even taking a hot yoga class can give physiological benefits to help your running.  But once again make sure you are properly hydrated!

3.  Sweat is good!  Sweat means our bodies are efficient at cooling themselves.  Sweat is your friend.  Especially if you have enough blood plasma volume to sweat a ton and pump oxygen to those muscles!

So when your tired, don’t skip that recovery workout.  Recovery workouts are a great way to remind your body to enhance it’s running physiology.  When you cross train, hit a hot yoga class.  The 90min in the hot room help leave you with more blood for your next run–If you rehydrate properly!

The Math Behind Yassos

One of my fellow runners passed along a link: running.ephang.com .  I would definitely recommend checking it out!

My task is to poke holes into his theory of why yassos work.  First off I want to say Thank you Wei for doing the math.  Being a math/science mind I know I appreciate knowing why I am doing something.  It is really cool to see a mathematical reason why we do what we do.  There are a couple points I would like to make as to it validity.

1.  The first thing I want to point out is where the logic fails.  The site posts:

A. X minutes Y seconds –> 800 meters
B. X hours Y minutes –> 26.2 miles

If you can do A, you can do B!

This isn’t true.  If you talk to any track athlete they will explain to you the training they do for their specific events are designed to build a particular type of muscle fibers.  800m while considered a mid distance/distance event in high school is considered more like a sprint in college and to a marathon runner, the 800m, is definitely a “sprint.”  What does that mean?  It means most great 800m runners actually have a large number of type II muscle fibers.  These muscle fibers are best with anaerobic metabolism and are designed to work at peak power under 2minish which is very close to the 800m world record (David Rudisha 1:41.01,  Jarmila Kratochvílová 1.53.28)….the best 800m runners are usually the study of some pretty geeky exercise physiologists!  If this topic interests you I would highly sugget looking into Dr. Sue Bodine’s work.  She was one of my brilliant exercise physiology Profs at Davis.  Marathon runners are working to develop their type I highly oxidative muscle fibers.  To say “If you can do A, you can do B!” is somewhat false because theoretically you could just train to do yassos as fast as possible, but your marathon time wouldn’t show that.

2.  Yassos are, however, a great form of speed work.  Why is that you might ask?  Really they are a simple form of intervals.  Intervals by definition are : “a type of physical training that involves bursts of high-intensity work interspersed with periods of low-intensity work. The high-intensity periods are typically at or close to near-maximum exertion, while the recovery periods may involve either complete rest or activity of lower intensity.”  So with a yasso we are doing a half mile as fast as we can with equal recovery time between sets.  Which is really another way to say run as fast for x amount of time and recover for x amount of time.

Intervals are effective because they can help increase our lactic threshold, improving our abilities to keep up cardiovascular activities at different levels.  Interval training pushes us to maintain speed and form at higher levels making all levels not only seem easier, but actually be easier because we have trained at higher intensities.

Which leads us to the number one reason yassos are effective:

3.  Yassos like all speed workouts are imperative because of the mental training they provide.  You have all heard me speak of the mind/body connection.  Just like the first breakers of the sub 4 mile, if we don’t believe we can do something: we won’t!  The point of doing a speed workout is to set your mind to something, then accomplish it.  That is why I ask you do only pick a speed you can maintain, if not surpass as you go through the workout.  If you pick too high a speed then back off you will have the mind set that you can back off during a race.  If you can push through pain and finish a prescribed workout then you can push through pain during a race and survive that as well.  While the logic may not be 100% true within the “simple” math of determining yasso speed, there is a strong connection between what is told to us is possible and what our therefore actions are.  If there is a math connection between an 800 time and a marathon time, every workout we nail at the 800 pace will reinforce that we can hit our marathon pace.

Long story short:  Our bodies don’t follow a simple math equation, our brains however have limitless possibilities.  Which will you choose to train?