Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mud Run or Muddy Run: What's your style?

When I first began running in 1997, I never would have guessed that by 2013, thousands of people every year would pay good money to run three miles or more with obsticacles, mud pits and water barriers in their way. That being said, I did grow up in the country and most of my miles, at least initially, were ran off road and on trails. After many of my runs, I would come back with muddy shoes or briar scrapes all over me, but to me that was just PAR for the course. Most people don't have an opportunity like this so mud runs and other similar events such as The Barbarian Challenge, Spartan Race, Foam Fest, and Color Runs have sprung up and are generally drawing huge crowds.

For me, a muddy run is still just that: a MUDDY run. I love to go splashing down my local trails the day after a big rain. There is definately a feeling of accomplishment after finishing an 8-miler and looking down only to see your feet and legs covered in the stuff. This is not something that I do for the purpose of getting muddy, but I do like that part of it. For me, running is and probably always will be about taking a break from it all, unplugging, and putting one foot in front of the other in relatively rapid succession. Although I do realize that running for some people is very much a social activity, for me, the 'lonlieness of the long distance runner' is alive and well. One of the beautiful things about running is the fact that it can mean so many different things to different people.

Large events such as mud runs, vampire/zombie runs, color runs, and themed runs are excellent ways for people to get in shape or stay in shape, and they generally have a very fun social atmosphere. While there are still many, many 5k's and 10k's that are all about getting from point A to point B as quickly as is individually possible, there are many more options out there now that are quite frankly making fitness fun. Many of these events start in waves and even foster a team attitude with people you dont even know. For example, if you are having some trouble getting over that obstacle, it is common for other participants to lend a helping hand to get you up and over that ten foot mud covered wall. In my opinion, these events are awesome for the fun time, social atmosphere, fitness, and sense of accomplishment that they offer to the participants.

To this day, I still have a general disdain for running on concrete sidewalks and on the side of a busy road, however that does not stop me from getting a run in. After all, any run is better than no run at all, but at least as far as events are concerned, there are now lots of options out there to get you as muddy or colorful as you want. As with any race, find one of these events, train for it, complete it, and repeat often. (When you do destroy your shoes from all the mud, go see your friendly, local running specality store and get a new pair of kicks! In Georgia, Run Fit Sports is one of the best!)Stay active, and whatever event you are doing, post your fun on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, or whatever your social network preferences are and get your friends involved! 

Happy Running!... errr.... Happy Mudding!.... wait... Happy Obstacle Conquering?

Either way, get out there and get fit!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ouch! Running Injuries and Ailments

When attacking your fitness goals, many times it is inevitable that a person can become injured. Whether a running or walking injury is from something acute such as a rolling of the ankle or something repetitive such as chronic knee pain, injuries of all types can be disheartening and frustrating. Sadly, in most cases, the harder you physically push yourself, the more you may have to deal with injuries. Injuries can be psychologically draining when you have a specific goal in mind, whether that goal is to lose fifty pounds or to run a marathon in under an 3 hours. Hopefully, in this blog, I can give you come ideas to help keep you pursuing your goals when dealing with injury.

*DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional, however I have been consistently running distance for 17 of my 30 years. Over these years I have suffered many types of injuries such as patella tendonitis, iliotibial band syndrome, shin splints, achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis,  and turf toe to name a few. It is my hope that some of my experience with these issues will help you as well. As always, please see a medical professional for any injury you may be experiencing. 

One of the first, and maybe the most prominent issues that a runner or walker may have may involve the knee. There are a myriad of knee pain that can occur, but iliotibial band syndrome (also referred to simply as IT band syndrome) and patella tendinitis are probably two of the most common. IT band syndrome can be described as a pain on the outside of the knee or hip. Generally rest, stretching it out, or using products such as a foam roller or a small knee strap designed to go over the knee can help relieve this pain. Patella tendinitis is a general knee pain, usually in the front of the knee, and a full knee brace with some compression or simply a strap under the knee could temporarily help alleviate some of the pain. As with most repetitive injuries, rest, good shoes, and a softer surface to run on can help with knee injuries. Patella tendonitis and IT band syndrome are just two different types of injuries that can affect the knees and upper legs of runners or walkers. 

Moving below the knee, shin splints and achilles tendonitis are two issues that seem to be three of the most common. Achilles tendonitis is a term that is used quite often, but the term is a bit misleading. By my reading, 'tendinitis' is a term that actually means inflammation, however in most cases, inflammation in the tendon is rarely the cause of the pain. 'Tendinosis' or 'tendinopathy' are actually more correct terms to refer to tiny micro tears in the achilles that much more commonly cause the pain, and there is a brace for this issue that is similar to the knee strap but made for the lower leg. As for shin splints, lower leg compression, proper shoes, and a softer running surface could help out. As with most lower leg issues, proper stretching, especially with the assistance of items such as the ProStretch tend to help. Lower leg injuries are another common set of issues that runners and walkers are faced with. 

Finally, it is important to remember that when it comes to activities such as running or walking, everything starts with the feet, and when your feet hurt, you hurt. First and foremost, proper shoes for any activity are key. Past that, some people may still be affected by injuries such as plantar fasciitis, Morton's neuroma, or bunions. Forefoot issues such as Morton's neuroma and bunions can generally be helped out with a shoe that is wide enough in the toe box, but in addition to that, metatarsal pads might help to take some pressure off of the affected area. Arch pain, heel pain, and general pain in the bottom of the foot can be described as plantar fasciitis, and as WebMD points out, it can be caused by many, many different things. What generally seems to work for most people is stretching, some extra support from an orthotic, and in more extreme cases, sleeping in with the foot in a flexed position with the help of something like a Strassburg Sock.  Foot pain for runners and walkers is never fun, but there are many ways to deal with it and hopefully continue to pursue your goals. 

It goes without saying, but running and walking injuries are never fun. With some patience and determination, however, you can make it past them continue along your path to physical fitness. As always, any products in this blog can be found at Run Fit Sports, and some video on this topic can be found here. If you are interested in any of this, please come see us or check us out online!

Happy Running!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Improving your Shoe's Fit: Laces, Socks, and Inserts Galore!

Improving your Shoe's Fit: Laces, Socks, and Inserts!

As discussed in my previous blog, a proper fitting shoe is probably one of the most important things to help you have a workout or run that is as enjoyable as possible.  In addition to a good quality shoe, there are many ways to help refine and improve that fit even further. Lacing techniques, socks, and different types of inserts are three basic ways to do this. Different types of pain experienced in the foot and lower leg may suggest that a different lacing pattern or an insert could help, or blisters anywhere on the foot could possibly be solved with a good quality sock. There are many different ways to help improve your shoe's fit, and I will do my best to explain some of them here.

One of most often overlooked and cheapest (it's free!) aspects of improving a shoe's fit are the many different lacing techniques that can be used. While almost every pair of shoes in the footwear industry comes laced from the factory in the 'criss cross' lace, this lacing pattern may not be optimal for some people, especially those with a wider forefoot or a high instep. People with pain in the top of the foot or pressure points in the forefoot may consider a 'gap lacing' or a 'straight bar' lacing to help relieve some of these issues. In some shoes, it may even work out better to simply skip an eyelet or two to help lessen those instep pressures. On the other side of the spectrum, people with narrow feet or narrow heels who are prone to heel slippage could try the 'lock lace' technique to help lessen or prevent the heel slipping upon toe off. Probably one of the best resources on lacing can be found on Ian Fieggen's website.  His site is extremely comprehensive, and the link provided shows 37 different ways to lace a pair of shoes. Probably the most common lacing systems used in running and walking shoes are the 'criss cross', the 'gap lace', the 'straight bar', or the 'lock lace'. Different lacing techniques should definitely be considered when perfecting your shoe's fit.

When many people are purchasing their running or workout shoes, a common question asked is: 'Do I need inserts?'.  This is a fairly difficult question to answer.  From the more expensive custom made orthotics that doctors can make to the vast array of inserts that can be purchased in-store, there are literally hundreds of choices. For most people, if the fitting of the running or walking shoe is done properly an insert is generally not needed. That being said, people with a pain in the arch of the foot or a plantar fasciitis type issue would probably love the feeling of more support from an insert such as Superfeet. Diabetics or people such as nurses standing for extremely long periods of time will probably like the plush softness of Spenco's Cross Trainer insert. Also available for more specific ailments such as a Morton's Neuroma are metatarsal pads. These pads cost about five to seven dollars and can make a world of difference for some people. As with the lacing technique, start with a good fitting pair of shoes, and then if you need to make some adjustments just know that there are lots of options out there for you.

After a quality shoe, probably the next most important component is choosing a sock that will fit your foot well and help prevent any blisters that may occur. There are two main components that cause blisters: moisture and friction. A good fitting shoe with a lacing technique that fits you well should eliminate most if not all friction between foot and shoe. While a good quality sock can help to stop rubbing as well, its main function should be to help wick moisture away from the foot and dissipate it out through a shoe with breathable mesh. Whether they are thicker like a Thorlo sock or thinner like a Swiftwick sock doesn't really matter. Thickness or thinness of a sock is generally a personal preference, but a sock NOT made out of cotton will generally wick moisture away better. Socks are very important for helping get the fit of the shoe just right, and any good shoe store should have try on socks for you to determine which one will work best for you.

There are many different ways to have a more pleasurable walk, run or session at the gym. Be sure to check out things such as socks, inserts, and the vast array of lacing techniques for your specific issues. Check out this link to further explain what I have been talking about. Run Fit Sports carries all the products mentioned in this blog and has a friendly, well educated staff to help you out. If Run Fit is not in your area, any other IRRA member retailer will be happy to help you out.

Happy Running!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Good Shoes: Great Workout

Ten days into the new year, and hopefully everyone is still dedicated to their fitness and nutritional resolutions. Today, I am writing to discuss the fitness aspect of resolutions, and more importantly how the proper footwear for a given activity is essential to keep you motivated and on track with those goals. When selecting the proper type of footwear, there are three standard elements of fit that should be taken into account as well as some general differences in amount of cushion and support. Hopefully by the end of this post, you will be better equipped to choose the perfect shoe for you. 

Any time you purchase a new walking, running, or athletic shoes, the three elements of fit that should be taken into account are size, mechanics, and foot type. As obvious as it sounds, sizing can actually be one of the more difficult of the three to determine. Most running or walking shoes tend to run smaller for a given size than their casual counterparts. Sizing up a full size is quite common, and since some shoes run narrower or wider, a different width may be required as well. Next, to a trained eye, mechanics and foot type are fairly easy to determine. Mechanics are simply 'how you walk or run'. For example, I am personally quite bowlegged, and when I select footwear, I generally don't need as much arch support, but I appreciate a super soft shoe. Others might have lower arches and appreciate more support from their footwear. Mechanics, foot type, and size are the three main factors when getting the right shoes. 

Also in footwear, terms such as stack height, heel to toe offset, zero drop, minimal, and natural are all terms used to describe footwear, and there are probably hundreds of combinations when it comes to shoe geometry. Although the true definition of most of these terms is highly debatable, I have defined them to the best of my ability at the end of this blog. After the size, foot type, and mechanics are determined, something based on these terms should be chosen. Very minimal, natural shoes like the Vibram Five Fingers, are a huge topic of discussion in the industry. Although running ten miles down a concrete sidewalk essentially barefoot is great for some people, it definitely doesn't work for everyone. Conversely, that person that enjoys the Vibram feel, will probably not like the feel of the super cushioned, super plush models from many other brands. Some select shoe models by Saucony, New Balance, Nike, and Brooks even make footwear that is halfway between barefoot and the built up shoes, and they have been very popular as well. Getting minimal footwear or something of more standard geometry, should definitely be considered when choosing the right workout shoes. 

Staying focused on your new year's resolutions is an important goal for many people, and the proper footwear should help you along your journey. Going to a running specialty store where a knowledgeable associate can help you with getting fit, is the first step (pun intended) in reaching your goals. Run Fit Sports is one of these types of stores. Check out the link here for some discussion and examples of different types of footwear. 

My last piece of advice: Get a shoe in a color that you love, because if you don't love the color, you will not want to wear it. Happy Running!

stack height: how tall the shoe is off the ground
heel to toe offset: a shoe's height under the heel relative to under the ball of the foot; usually measured in millimeters
zero drop: a shoe that is completely level underneath the foot; zero drop means that the footwear has a zero heel to toe offset
minimal: a general term for footwear that is closer the ground, and has zero to no stack height
mechanics: how a person interacts with the ground; how a person walks or runs