Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

Mouth Wide Shut: Adventures in Nostril Breathing – Part 2

January 19, 2013

In my previous post I wrote about my past experience with nostril breathing during aerobic exercise and my decision to give it a go again thanks to my fiance’s positive experience with it.

The benefits were not immediately apparent. On the contrary, I actually found myself slowing down in my runs – especially on hills and inclines. But my patience (this time) eventually paid off and after about two weeks I noticed I was able to run longer with less effort and – best of all – with far less joint pain or muscle fatigue at longer distances. I really cannot explain the fact that in the past month I’ve managed to run a 45 mile week, a 50 mile week and a 60 mile week, the last of which included a 2 hour 5 minute run! This mileage is almost double what I’ve been able to run the past 3 years due to injury. Training wise I’ve done nothing differently in the past month except nostril breathe during my runs (and my bike rides and spinning workouts) about 85% of the time. Furthermore, I’m running the same routes 3-4 minutes faster than I was a few weeks ago without making a conscious effort to do so.

Warming up takes a little longer in the unusually cold weather we’ve been having lately – the first mile or so I tend to run slower and my nose runs a bit as it warms up, but the pace gradually increases to where I’m running faster and longer. Another unexpected side effect of nostril breathing is that my mouth doesn’t get as stiff when I’m running in cold weather. I guess keeping it closed keeps it warmer.

Switching to nose breathing throughout the day has allowed me to maintain a state of relaxed alertness even in stressful situations as long as I remember to switch to breathing through my nose. I find my energy levels much more even throughout the day, my muscles less sore, my sleep more sound. It’s also made me more in-tune with my body – perhaps I’m listening to my body more now that I’m not talking as much.

I finally succumbed to a head cold this week after everyone around me had been sick. Nevertheless, I’ve been able to maintain my training while reducing the duration and intensity of my workouts. Nostril breathing with a stuffed up nose is more challenging, but I’ve found that it also helps clear out the sinuses.

As I look back 18 years ago:  between 1995 and 1996 I ran 5 marathons trying to qualify to the 1996 Olympic Marathon Trials. Each race was slower than the last and each race took more out of me. Perhaps if I’d had more patience in applying Douillard’s advice back then I would’ve run faster races with less effort. I did eventually qualify in for the Trials 2000, but it might have happened sooner if I’d kept my mouth shut!

Anyway, if you want to see if nose breathing can help you achieve peak performance – or you want to feel better when you’re exercising, or you’re just curious, – I encourage you to give it a try. But be patient…..the benefits are worth the wait.

Be Well,

-Carolyn

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Mouth Wide Shut: Adventures in Nostril Breathing – Part I

January 11, 2013

Eighteen years ago when I was a competitive marathoner and a graduate student in exercise physiology, I picked up a rather unorthodox new book called Body, Mind and Sport, by John Douillard. One of the book’s chief doctrines was that of employing nostril breathing (also known as diaphragmatic breathing) instead of mouth breathing during aerobic exercise. The author believes that nostril breathing is beneficial not only for yoga, but also aerobic activities such as running or cycling. The book contains several testimonials of professional and amateur athletes who made great gains in their fitness and performance after switching to nostril breathing.

Douillard believes it’s possible for anyone who trains using nostril breathing to achieve the effortless “Zone” of peak performance. Indeed there’s some evidence that breathing through the nose during aerobic exercise is beneficial. Apparently it increases CO2 saturation in the blood which allows the body to maximize its ability to absorb oxygen from inhaled air. Nostril breathing can also help warm the air entering the lungs (great for the cold weather workouts this winter). Douillard also asserts that the nose provides a better filtration system, resulting in cleaner air and fewer allergens being absorbed by the lungs. Perhaps most importantly, Douillard asserts that nose breathing has a calming, stress-reducing effect on the body, which, over time, translates into a lower state of perceived exertion during high intensity levels of exercise.

At the time I picked up Douillard’s book back in 1994,  I was a young, somewhat impatient, impetuous athlete focused on racing marathons and qualifying for the 1996 Olympic Marathon Trials. As intrigued as I was by Douillard’s premise, I didn’t stick with the concept after the novelty wore off. Furthermore, I just didn’t see how it was going to translate into a faster marathon for me. As much as I felt good doing it during my training runs, I wasn’t convinced that nose breathing would work during a race and I didn’t want to risk experimenting with it during competition.

Fast forward 18 years and today my main goal is to run for pleasure and without pain – and to keep up with fiance,” Chris”, on our weekend runs together. So several weeks ago when he asked me what I knew about nostril breathing I said I remembered reading a book about the subject. Miraculously I was able to find Douillard’s book on my shelf. Chris became very enthused as he read the book and even more excited about nostril breathing as he began applying it during his runs and bicycle rides. I was surprised by his quick assimilation of it and as during our runs together I consequently became more aware of the sound of his breathing and his lack of dialogue (hey it’s hard to nostril breathe and carry on a conversation simultaneously).

Despite my skepticism, in the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” spirit I decided to give “aerobic nostril breathing” another try.

In my next post, I’ll tell you what happened this time. In the meantime…

Be Well,

Carolyn

A Personal Journey of Healing

December 28, 2011

SEE UPDATES BELOW THIS POST

For me, 2011 has been a journey of healing. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts this year, I’ve been suffering from Haglund’s deformity – a chronic form of calcaneal bursitis (inflammation of the bursa sac that cushions the back of the heel) that results in hypertrophy of the heel bone. I’ve also been dealing with Achilles tendonitis which is commonly associated with this condition.

What was strange in my case is that, although this is a chronic condition, mine seemed to come on suddenly despite the fact that I didn’t change my footwear or my activities. In fact I run far less than I used to so it’s ironic that this problem cropped up at this time in my life. After suffering for many months while trying all of the standard allopathic medical treatments for Haglunds with no improvement, I decided to have surgery. I even scheduled the procedure, which involves shaving the heel bone, the permanent removal of the bursa sac and the temporary detachment and re-attachment of the Achilles tendon. The post-surgical recovery process is long and arduous and there’s no guarantee of a successful outcome or that the problem won’t return.

As the date of my surgery loomed I began to have second thoughts  – particularly the prospect of a 6-month layoff from physical activity. Instead I decided to try the laser therapy  and LED light therapy treatments offered at my chiropractor’s office, figuring I could always have the surgery later if they weren’t successful. Much to my delight I experienced improvement and was encouraged by my gradual progress – namely my ability to do more with less pain. During the summer I added bi-weekly acupuncture treatments and noticed a further reduction in my symptoms though the bursa and heel bone never shrunk in size. I began competing in 10ks and I even ran (and was the second female finisher) in a half-marathon. I also added a lot of cycling to my workout regime which helped strengthen my foot without pounding the pavement. As usual, deep water exercise was a staple and savior in my life and also helped strengthen my foot and keep me in shape without adversely affecting my heel or Achilles. As long as I didn’t run too much or too many days in a row I was able to continue. I was even able to return to running hilly courses and even competed in hilly races.

But by late Fall I became discouraged as my pain began to return and my progress seemed to plateau. Still adament about avoiding surgery, I began receiving homeopathic injections of Traumeel directly into the bursa. (This procedure is commonly performed in Europe though not in the US). I have had 5 rounds of Traumeel injections and plan to have one more next week. They are extremely painful and cause the bursa and overall pain and stiffness in my foot to increase for about 48 hours. The jury is still out as to whether they are effective, but I do feel that my foot is slowly changing for the better. I’ve also been taking Traumeel homeopathic tablets (instead of non-steriodal anti-inflammatories which with chronic use can delay healing) and have continued using Traumeel ointment on my heel – particularly the 2 days following the injections.

I also changed to a softer and smaller heel lift – after wearing a hard rubber one for years in my right shoe because of a leg difference resulting from scoliosis. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve been working on altering my running gait, attempting to adopt more of a barefoot style of running (but with shoes on!) instead of that of a heel striker (as I’ve been all my life). Old habits do die hard as this has proved extremely challenging for me! I’ve also discovered the joy of tandem bicycling – it’s great exercise and also doubles as couples therapy :). More on that in a future post.

I’m still hoping to avoid the knife, though I realize that there’s no other way of returning the heel bone to its original shape so I may resort to that at some point. In the meantime, other than running shoes and cycling shoes I mostly wear clogs, mules, backless sandals and flip flops to reduce the pressure on the back of the heel.

I’ve learned a lot this year in this journey of healing….most of all not to give up hope. The body has an amazing capacity to heal itself if given the right tools.

Be Well and Happy New Year,

Carolyn

UPDATE I:  Well I went back to the Dr. today expecting to have my final Traumeel  injection, however because my results have been rather underwhelming he decided to take the next step and try prolotherapy on my heel bursitis and Achilles tendonits. Prolotherapy involves the injection of a dextrose (sugar) solution (also includes Vitamin B-12 and Vitamin A) into the ligament or tendon where it attaches to the bone or any painful area. This results in a localized inflammation in these weak areas which supposedly increases the blood supply and flow of nutrients and stimulates the tissue to repair itself. If I thought Traumeel injections were painful, this was easily twice as bad probably due to the larger needle and the deeper penetration into the bone and surrounding tendons and ligaments. I had trouble walking within 90 minutes of the procedure when the pro-caine (anesthetic)  wore off.  Tonight I’m  limping around and strangely enough it feels as though I sprained my ankle. I was told the pain and swelling would increase for approximately three days, but this is worse than I expected.

Here is a link to a video (see #11 on the sidebar of videos) of a patient receiving the injections in his foot  (my injections were in the back of my heel and Achilles tendon). Don’t be fooled by the Dr.’s assertion that the injections are easily received by the patient. That was not my experience and I have a high pain threshold!

UPDATE II: I never returned to have additional prolotherapy or traumeel injections. It took me 5 weeks to return to my previous activity level prior to the injections and I experienced no improvement in my symptoms. Bottom line:  this approach didn’t work for me. Currently I’m continuing my home remedies and varying my activities (alternating running, cycling, exercising on the elliptical trainer, swimming and water exercise) and being very mindful of my choice of shoes – backless whenever possible.

UPDATE III:  Well it’s mid-May, 2012 and I’m happy to report that I’ve had a relatively active, pain-reduced three weeks. On the advice of my old chiropractor (whom I saw during a recent visit to Tucson) I’ve been taking a homeopathic medicine called “Osteoheel“. I do think it is helping to reduce my pain and possibly even size of the bump on the back of my heel. It’s definitely decreased the burning sensation in my heel and achilles tendon. About a week ago I started using a homeopathic ointment called “Topricin Foot Therapy Cream“. I believe it’s also working to temporarily reduce my pain and stiffness. I’ve used Traumeel religiously for years, but I’ve not found it to be effective on this foot condition – perhaps Topricin will fit that bill. I’ve also changed to a running shoe that has a smaller difference in height between the back heel and front part of the sole (only a 4mm difference as opposed to the typical 8mm difference). It also has a more flexible sole. It took some getting used to, but I’m having less pain both during and after running. I’ve even been able to run back-to-back days and a couple of days I go I did a 9-miler. I’m still doing a lot of tandem cycling and spinning where I have little or no pain and I’m in the pool almost every day – whether for work or a workout. I continue using my golf ball on the bottom of my foot to keep the plantar fascia tissue pliable. I just keep it under my dining room table where I can use it while I’m eating or working at the computer.

I’m not sure if this is just a positive phase I’m experiencing or whether my condition is actually improving. Only time will tell… stay tuned….

UPDATE IV (October, 2012):   After a frustrating summer of plantar faciitis in my  good foot, I’ve experienced a really good 6 weeks. Other than a bit of stiffness in the morning and occasionally some minor Haglund’s pain, both feet have been feeling really good. Even after running almost every day in France on vacation and walking miles all over Paris, my feet felt pretty darn good. I’ve continued taking the Osteoheel but only when I need it rather than taking it preventatively. The only thing I’ve done differently is completely eliminate artificial sweeteners. A year ago I stopped chewing sugarless gum, the only source of artificial sweetener I was consuming, suspecting at that time that it might be contributing to my Haglund’s pain and leg and foot cramping. My condition did improve when I switched to what I thought was sugar-based gum when I chewed it occasionally. Eight weeks ago I happened to read the label more carefully on my Wrigley’s doublemint gum packet only to discover that  it now includes artificial sweeteners (aspartame mostly) in addition to sugar – albeit a smaller amount than in “sugar-free gum”. I immediately stopped chewing it and within a week my foot pain decreased dramatically. Coincidence?  Possibly…but for now, I’m avoiding all artificial sweeteners and reading labels carefully. I suspect I’m sensitive to any amount of them – no matter how small. On a related note, I noticed in France that almost all chewing gum and mints for sale were artificially-sweetened – similar to the US. I doubt that was the case even 5 years ago, but it appears to be a growing trend both here and abroad. Artificial sweeteners are being linked to so many health problems that it surprises me that the market for their products is still booming, especially in Europe where, for example, homeopathy is an accepted, even mainstream practice and genetically modified foods are banned.

UPDATE V (December 31, 2012)  Over the past few months I’ve gradually been able to increase my running mileage. I was thrilled to be able to do a few 90 minute runs with no negative consequences other than some post-run stiffness soreness in my soleus and Achilles – all of which went away quickly. But TODAY I ACTUALLY RAN 2 HOURS AND 5 MINUTES!!! I haven’t come close to that in 3 years. I am a bit sore tonight, but thrilled nevertheless. I feel really good about starting 2013 feeling more like my old self physically. The only other thing of note that has happened was a 2-week period a few weeks ago where I experienced sudden, sharp knife like pains in my right foot – both the medial and lateral parts of my foot – especially at the heel and Achilles. My ankle would also suddenly lock up on me. Strangely enough the pains would decrease or even subside after urination. I’ve since discovered that this is probably tiny fragments of the hypertrophied bone breaking off. Apparently this is common in the case of bone spurs. These “loose bodies” can find their way to your joint or soft tissue. Fortunately it went away, but it really helped just knowing what was causing it – especially as it was quite painful. Interestingly, my fiance started measuring the “circumference” of my Haglund’s heel with a tape measure a couple of months ago. It had been 26.5 cm before this painful episode. On Christmas Day he measured it again. It had been about a month since the last time he measured it and this time it was 26.0 cm!!! Could it be my hypertrophied heel bone is shrinking? I don’t know, but it is definitely less sensitive and the bursa is no longer irritated or inflamed.

UPDATE VI (January 2, 2013) I thought I’d better update again rather than waiting to share some additional information as well as the good news that followed the 2-hour and 5 minute run the other day. I really feared that I might be hobbling around the next day after sharing the news on my blog. Amazingly not only was I OK the next day, I felt good enough to run an hour. Even more amazing is the fact that I ran the next day (at a brisk pace – thanks to my fiance 🙂 and the next day. I’m taking tomorrow off regardless of how I feel but I’m thrilled to have covered 40 miles in 4 days – especially since one of those days included that 2 hour run.  Something else I wanted to share that I’ve done differently this past month was lacing my shoes differently from each other. My right foot is my Haglund’s foot – and the right shoe is the one I wear the heel lift in because of my leg length difference. My left foot has a tendency to turn out when I run so I’ve recently been lacing it at the top shoelace hole to keep that foot under greater motion control while lacing my right shoe at 2 holes lower so it is less restricted. I think this has helped – if not my Haglund’s than at least my gait. I’m a neutral runner so I don’t need motion control shoes in general, but this helps with the discrepancy between my right and left feet.

UPDATE VII (April 26, 2014) I can’t believe it’s been more than a year since I updated this post. Suffice it to say I got married last year and planning the wedding took much of my time and attention. I’m happy to report my Haglund’s Deformity continues to be less and less of an issue. I’ve been able to go back to wearing a 7mm heel lift in my running shoes which is what works best for my back (my leg length discrepancy is a result of an ideopathic scoliosis). This morning I asked my husband if we could take a tandem bike ride instead of run together as I suddenly realized I’ve been able to run every day for 3 weeks straight without foot pain! These 3 weeks included a 2-hour plus run and other longish runs and 2 high intensity hilly runs with him. I’m also less plagued by the oxalate pain (muscle cramping, etc) that I’ve written about as it’s been almost 12 months since I reduced my oxalate consumption after realizing that it was contributing to my joint and muscle pain. I’m now contemplating taking up a dance class (tap anyone?) – something I’ve sorely been missing –  as I think my Haglund’s can tolerate it. As we were riding our tandem this morning I was just thinking “I’m so glad I didn’t have surgery for my Haglund’s 3+ years ago when I was scheduled for it”. While I will always have a large bump on the back of my right heel, right now it is quite manageable and largely forgettable.  By the way, I’ve stopped taking the Osteoheel as I found that it was causing some pain when I took it. This started happening after I reduced my oxalate consumption – so there may be some connection there. One product that has helped me tremendously is Magnesium Malate (I take capsules by Source Naturals). Again, I think this is helping the oxalate condition, but my Haglund’s may be connected because it seems to help that, too.

UPDATE VIII (May 25, 2015):  Wow – I can’t believe another year has passed since I did an update for this post. I guess I’ve been busy. And, if you read my blog regularly, you know that about a year ago I broke my elbow – so needless to say other health concerns became more pressing. I’m happy to report that my Haglund’s continues to be manageable as long as I wear the right shoes and listen to my body. I’m back to taking the Osteoheel – but only as needed and only in tiny amounts (I typically cut it in half and take only half at a time). I’m not currently taking the Magnesium Malate unless I start dumping oxalates and then I only take it while that’s occurring. I found that if I take it when I don’t need it it actually causes muscle cramping in me!  I get a lot of magnesium in my diet so that’s probably a sign that I only need it in certain circumstances. Often when we get too much of a supplement our bodies react by making our symptoms worse. All for now…

 

All for now…..

Be Well,

Carolyn

The Agony of Defeat: All Part of Competition

October 1, 2011

Recently I’ve returned to athletic competition after several years of “retirement” and it’s reminded me that competition is all about risk. You can train perfectly, avoid illness, get plenty of sleep and eat all the right foods, but, come competition day, you may still be disappointed with your performance.

But keep in mind that it’s the agony of defeat rather than the thrill of victory that leads you to analyze your training and make changes if necessary. Furthermore, the ups and downs of competition keep it fresh, interesting and unpredictable. The lows make the highs that much sweeter.

Emotionally, it can be cathartic to have a good pity party after a disappointing athletic performance as long as you don’t wallow for too long. It’s normal to feel sad and upset and it’s important to express those feelings, but don’t get bogged down in them. Whether or not you feel like celebrating or hibernating after your event, pre-plan some fun activities. Distract yourself with a movie, dinner party, shopping – it doesn’t matter as long as it’s enjoyable and engaging. Don’t go it alone. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family members.

When the immediate pain of defeat subsides, analyze where you went wrong (if you did) in your preparation and competition strategy. Were your goals unrealistic? Were you adequately trained, rested, hydrated and fueled? Did you start out too fast or too slow? Did your mind wander during competition? There’s as much if not more to learn from failed attempts than from successful endeavors. Even after more than 30 years, I still learn something new every time I compete.

Planning your next competitive event and goal can help you channel your disappointment in a positive direction. Choose your next competition immediately. The sooner you refocus your training, the sooner you’ll be able to release your disappointment. The life of a competitive athlete is as much about defeat as it is about success. Learn to handle both. Grieve, analyze, learn and plan ahead. There’s always the next competition.

Be Well,

Carolyn

It’s Never Too Late to Achieve Your Athletic Aspirations

September 20, 2011

As George Elliott so aptly put it:  “It’s never too late to be what you might have been“. This quote has really resonated with me this year as I’ve watched someone close to me at age 45 realize athletic aspirations that eluded him as a younger man, including qualifying for the World Duathlon Championships. Furthermore, he has achieved PRs (personal records) in several events, beating men half his age. He’s arguably in his athletic prime and he’s shown me that it’s never too late to ‘be the athlete you might have been’.

After doing a little research, I discovered there are other similar stories of athletes achieving success long after most have retired from competition. Here is an impressive list of impressive feats of male athletes supposedly past their prime and here are some female athletes who demonstrate that ‘age is just a number‘. What all of them have in common is a refusal to limit their athletic aspirations as they aged. Perhaps the best example, however, is Jack La Lane, who was achieving physical feats well into his 70s, including towing 70 boats with 70 people 1 1/2 miles (from the Queen’s Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary) while handcuffed, shackled and fighting strong winds and currents.

Physiologically, older athletes need more recovery time. They also need more warmup time before training and especially competing. But the most important ingredient to a masters athlete’s success is consistency. Consistent training and competing is essential to injury prevention and injury prevention is critical because older athletes take longer to heal and longer to get back in shape after a layoff. No longer does the weekend warrior approach to fitness work for seasoned competitors. Regular workouts, healthy eating habits, quality sleep – all are necessary to keep older athletes injury-free. What they lack in youthful physicality, however, masters athletes more than make up for in wisdom and experience. Older athletes are typically smarter athletes – both in their training and lifestyle habits and in their competitive strategies.

Like many masters athletes, I find that I am “higher maintenance” in my 40s than I was in my 20s and 30s. Regular chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture treatments are necessary to keep injuries at bay and my body functioning optimally. Maintaining a healthy diet is essential for me and these days I require 8 and ideally 8 and a half hours of quality sleep whereas I used to get by on 6 to 7 hours. Now if I only had my twenty-something body with my forty-something wisdom and experience…

Be Well,

Carolyn

Using the Pool As a Cross-Training Tool

July 29, 2010

Thanks to those of you who attended my talk at Fleet Feet/Runner’s High in Menlo Park, CA.  Below is a summary of some of the key points we covered. Also please visit my website at bewellcoaching.com for  even more information.

As we all know, sports-and fitness-related injuries are all too common. Fortunately, the water is an ideal environment for athletes to not only rehab their injuries, but also maintain or even increase their conditioning and improve their performance. In fact, the biggest misconception about aquatic cross-training is that it’s only useful when injuries prevent land-based workouts. Instead, the pool can be a valuable, year-round cross-training tool for almost any sport or fitness activity.

Aquatic cross-training not only keeps you cooler in the Summer months, it provides an intense, no- or low-impact, pain-free workout. It is the perfect complement to running, tennis, basketball and other high impact physical activities.

The following are just a few reasons why:

•     RESISTANCE: Water provides 12 times the resistance of air in every direction, allowing you to determine the intensity of your workout by the speed and range of motion of your movements.

•     MUSCLE BALANCING: Exercising in the water necessitates that you work both halves of each muscle pair (i.e. hamstrings/ quadriceps) equally. This works to balance the strength and flexibility of opposing muscle groups helping to prevent injuries.

•     HYDROSTATIC PRESSURE: When you are exercising vertically in the pool, the hydrostatic pressure of the water increases your venus return or the rate at which your blood is pumped back to your heart, allowing your heart to work more efficiently. This means that your heart rate is roughly 10-15 % lower in the water compared with exercising at the same intensity on land, so you can really push yourself in the pool.

•     OFFERS NO- OR LOW-IMPACT ENVIRONMENT: Because the buoyancy of the water offsets gravity, deep water offers a non-impact, virtually injury-free environment in which you can exercise regularly  at a high intensity. Even while exercising in shallow water – at chest-level you’re only 35% of your body weight and waist-deep – only 50%.

•     INCREASES RANGE OF MOTION (FLEXIBILITY): The natural buoyancy of water helps increase range of motion of joints and muscles, enhancing flexibility.

•     IMPROVES BALANCE/COORDINATION: Vertical aquatic exercise – especially deep water exercise – improves your overall balance and coordination by challenging you to maintain a vertical body alignment in the unstable aquatic environment.

•     CORE CONDITIONING:  Just maintaining this upright posture much less exercising in deep water challenges your core muscles without loading your spine. There are also many core-specific exercises you can do in the pool.

•     UPPER BODY WORKOUT:  Unlike running on land, running in the pool offers you a great upper body workout because of the resistance the water provides.

•     SPORT SPECIFIC:  Unlike swimming, exercising vertically in the pool – (whether in the shallow or deep end) can be a much more sports-specific means of cross-training for runners.

By the way, you don’t have to be a proficient swimmer (or even know how to swim) to cross-train in a pool. I’ve worked with many non-swimmers who nevertheless came to enjoy aquatic exercise (even in deep water!).

Be Well,

Carolyn


Run Without Shoes? Not So Fast…..

May 31, 2010

Barefoot – or almost barefoot running- seems to be all the rage these days, nevertheless I’m still taken aback when I see runners trotting down the road in what looks like their socks. While I’ve yet to see anyone running completely barefoot on the road, that’s probably because many athletes do their barefoot running on a soft dirt or rubber track, a soccer field, or a beach.

Research does support the purported benefits of  barefoot running and as such companies are jumping on the bandwagon of this running trend. Barefoot Science, for example, has developed special insoles that supposedly duplicate the benefits of barefoot running. They claim that wearing their barefoot science insoles inside a pair of running shoes simulates running barefoot and therefore strengthens the feet. Another company has come out with a type of “sock shoe” called “Five Fingers” that separates the toes and has a protective bottom to prevent splinters, abrasions and other road running hazards, but offers no additional cushioning or support.

Christopher McDougall in his book “Born To Run” traces the evolution of this barefoot running trend and proposes that it is in part a backlash to the over-inflated running shoe industry. McDougall even goes as far as to accuse Nike for the increase in running injuries with their invention of technical shoes. He argues that Nike’s increasingly cushioned and stability-oriented shoes have altered runners’ natural gait by encouraging them to run on their heels. While McDougal does not practice barefoot running himself, he does advocate a return to simpler, less technical (and therefore cheaper) running shoes.

Personally, as an avid runner for more than 30 years, I’ve always had more success with less technical shoes. In fact, after reading McDougall’s book, I put aside my $135 Mizuno Wave Creations with their revolutionary Infinity Wave™ cushioning and Sensorpoint™ suspension system and went back to my old, low-end Asic Landreths that I’d put out to pasture a couple of years ago. Much to my surprise, my nagging heel pain subsided despite the fact that my old shoes had seen many more than the 500 miles manufacturers claim is a running shoe’s maximum recommended lifespan.

During my quest for relief from my heel pain I also spent $50 on a pair of barefoot science insoles. Unlike most arch-supporting inserts, the barefoot science insoles come with a progressive arch-building system in the middle of the foot. Problem is, you cannot wear any other orthotic device with them. As someone who wears a simple rubber heel lift in my right shoe to correct a leg length discrepancy, I was only able to wear the insoles if I wore one in my right shoe and none in my left, which felt strange to say the least and perhaps caused me more harm than good.

Ironically, it was only when I returned to a pair of old shoes with regular ol’ insoles and my heel lift that I was able to run normally again. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it I always say when it comes to running. 

While barefoot running may have its benefits, it  isn’t for everyone. Some of us with leg-length discrepancies or fallen arches or those who have run for more than 20 years with high tech shoes may be in for a rude awakening and injuries if they suddenly shuck their shoes. Even the proponents of barefoot running recommend you start slowly and gradually build up your off-shoe running mileage. The Tarahumara Indians may run barefoot with great success, but they grow up running shoeless. For them, suddenly running in shoes may be as potentially harmful as those of us who’ve worn shoes for many years to run without them.

Be Well,

Carolyn

The Dangers of Running Myopically- II

October 22, 2009

In my previous post I discussed the dangers of running compulsively and exercise addiction in general. The first step in conquering any addictive behavior is, of course, recognizing and admitting that it is indeed a compulsion.

Recognizing, Then Breaking a Running Addiction

In order to break a running-dependency, you need to re-examine your relationship to health and fitness. Ask yourself, “Why am I running?”. If you’re exercising for your health, then why are you always so exhausted?  If you’re training for competitive goals, remind yourself that rest is essential to peak performance. Above all, as much as you may love it, running is only one part of a balanced life.

 Finding a Balance

1.  Listen to your body, respectfully responding when it says “I’m too tired and achy to run today”.

2.  Schedule rest days into your program. That way, you’re in control of when you run as well as when you don’t and you can plan for it.

3. Try other forms of exercise (preferably low-impact) to balance your running:  cycling to strengthen  your quads, yoga to improve your flexibility, swimming or weight training to increase your upper body power, deep water exercise to improve core strength and overall fitness.

4. Don’t let your running performance determine your self-worth.

5. Don’t rely on running to maintain your emotional well-being. Consider seeking professional psychological assistance if necessary.

6. Run with others who share your passion, but also have full lives outside of running.

Those of us who love to run know how much it enriches our lives, but it’s important to keep it in perspective and respect it. Our bodies are meant for activities besides just putting one foot in front of the other. Maintain a healthy respect for your ability to run and, above all, don’t abuse the privilege.

Run Long and Be Well,

Carolyn

The Dangers of Running Myopically- Part I

October 16, 2009

You’ve seen them running down the road – perhaps you’re even one of them – pounding the pavement mile after mile, sometimes twice a day.  Their upper bodies are shrunken while their hamstrings and calves are solid as rock, and probably just as flexible. I call these people who think running is all they need to be fit and healthy  “myopic runners”. They’d never think, for example, of taking a yoga class  – what good would that do when they wouldn’t get their heart rate up or barely break a sweat. Few get in the pool unless they’re badly injured or they’re cooling off after a summer run. It’s also rare to find them in a spinning class or Pilates studio.

For those who love to and can run, running is a wonderful part of a well-rounded fitness program. But, while running is an excellent cardiovascular and muscular endurance exercise, it doesn’t promote muscular strength, flexibility, or agility, other key components of fitness. Plus, most runners’ bodies cannot tolerate excessive mileage without some physiological cost.  

Furthermore, when running becomes a compulsion, a healthy habit can become a harmful obsession. Inadequate rest between high mileage and/or high intensity workouts can lead to muscle breakdown and injury. This is why cross-training is so essential to long-term running success. By  balancing the body’s strength and flexibility of opposing muscle groups, performing a variety of activities helps keep injuries at bay.

When Dedication Becomes A Dependency

In some cases, over-dedicated runners develop a psychological dependency on running as a means of controlling the rest of their life. Certain personality types may also be at a higher risk, including highly driven Type As, perfectionists, and those who lack communication and coping skills. If you find yourself feeling guilty, depressed and irritable after skipping even one workout or if you feel compelled to run even when you’re ill or tired, you may want to examine your commitment to running. Running can help get you through tough, stressful life events, but if it becomes your only means of coping emotionally, you run the risk of making it a higher priority than relationships and/or work.

In my next post I’ll discuss how to recognize a running addiction and ways to bring balance back into your fitness program if your running has started running your life.

Be Well,

Carolyn

 

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No Wonder They Run So Far, So Fast!

July 23, 2009

I’ve always been fascinated by the Tarahumara Indians – the world’s original, natural marathoners. Scientists have long wondered what gives them such great endurance, able to run mile after mile at altitude…  just for fun.

I just came across this book, “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen“, by Christopher McDougall, who sought to uncover the secrets of the Tarahumara running phenomenon.

Studies on the Tarahumara diet have found that it’s high in protein, complex carbohydrates and fiber, but low in simple sugars, fat and cholesterol. But it’s no wonder the Tarahumara have such great endurance  – one of their staples is chia seeds, a superfood originally cultivated by the Incas that is a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids and insoluble fiber and is a complete vegetarian protein. In his book McDougall describes the diet of the Tarahumara, including their own “sports drink”, chia fresca.

Here are two very different versions of a chia fresca energy drink – the first is probably closer to what the Tarahumara drink, but the second sounds a lot yummier!

Be Well,

Carolyn