February 28, 2010

The Five Rules of Running Shoes. Rule One--Shoe Weight Matters

For runners, finding the right shoe is not unlike finding the perfect mate.  It can take years, even a life time.  Then you meet for the first time, maybe by chance, maybe by plan.  You date for a while, maybe because it feels right, or maybe because you're getting over a tough break-up.  Then, before you know it, you realize this is "the one".   You make arrangements to "tie the knot".  Then, years later, having tied the knot  (thousands of times with your shoe in this case), "the one" changes.  Version 6 is totally different than the version you first met! Or, heaven forbid, maybe you've changed?

Ok, enough of the perfect mate analogy.  I recently purchased, and promptly returned, three different pairs of shoes. It still feels a little strange, to walk out of a store with a brand new pair, only to walk right back in asking for an exchange or a refund.  I'm pretty sure there is a shoe for every foot, but I know every shoe is NOT for this foot!  I've run in a plethora of brands and models.  Asics, Saucony, New Balance, La Sportiva, Montrail, Mazuno, North Face, among others.  All are great brands. But over the hills and through the years, I've learned there are, for me at least, five immutable laws when it comes to running shoes.  Here is the first.  

Law Number One - Shoe Weight Matters. I never used to think much about shoe weight.  But when I start training a lot I notice it.  Since running is not much more than the application of energy (power) against gravity (resistance), its only logical that less weight equals less resistance, which equates to more efficient running.

While it might seem irrelevant to quibble over a few ounces, here's something to think about.   A runner's foot strikes the ground between 150 to 180 times a minute.  Since every stride requires a runner to lift her foot, the difference adds up quickly.  For example, if your cadence is 170, you're lifting your feet 170 times a minute, or 10,200 times an hour.  Now think of what a difference a measly two ounces could make: 2 ounces multiplied by 10,200 equals 20,400 ounces, or 1,224 pounds, lifted during an hour long run (one ounce equals 1/16th, or .06 of a pound).  Sound crazy?  Ok, maybe.  But I know from my own running that when I'm on a pair of 8 ounce racing flats, my feet feel like they barely touch the ground.   

Now for the absurd...I weigh all my shoes!  I stole my wife's food scale and have quarantined the thing for a couple of years.  This is one of the reasons I've returned so many shoes. It's easy to find information on shoe weight on the internet, but I've found a lot of it is bulls!#t.  Most advertisements for shoe weight are based on a shoe size perfect for a 7th grader.  The shoes I've purchased (size 10.5-11) are always several ounces heavier than advertised. 

What is the right shoe weight?  Much of this depends on what I'm using the shoe for.  For me, if I'm training on the roads, I want something that is average to light with a reasonable amount of cushion, but not too much.  For that I need something less than 12 ounces.  The New Balance 758, a neutral shoe that tips the scale at just over 11 ounces, has worked very well for me.  If I'm training on trails, I look for protection over cushion.  For the last couple of years I've run on Asics 2130 Trail, a great shoe weighing in at 13 ounces, but now discontinued.  The newer version, the Asics 2150 Trail, gained an ounce and is now a little hefty for me (Asics, why did you have to put weight on my 2130s?). For this I've switched to the Asics Trail Attack 6 which is somewhere around 12.7 ounces. So far so good. 

I've also been experimenting with the New Balance MT 100.  I recently ran two back to back 20 milers on some rocky, rutty terrain in these little demons.  They stood their ground and weigh in at a nimble 8 ounces.  I kicked a rock pretty hard and to my surprise they absorbed the blow well with no damage or pain to my toes.  Both the New Balance 100 and the Asics Trail Attack 6 have a rock guard built into the sole of the shoe so you don't have to worry when treading on those nasty, poky rocks on trail.

So, next time you lace up for a run, grab a food scale from the kitchen and give it a whirl.  Better yet, if you're training in heavy shoes, try something lighter.  Your feet might thank you...by barely touching the ground.

"Rule One--Shoe Weight Matters" is the first of five series of posts covering "The Five Rules of Running Shoes".  Coming soon --- Rule Two.

February 13, 2010

Getting Through It

When snow was pelting the east coast this week, I initially thought my flight into Minneapolis Tuesday afternoon was a blessing.  Then I heard the temperature.  The low was supposed to hover in the single digits, somewhere between 5 and 8 degrees.  Hmmm….I wasn’t quite sure if I was the weather guru or the simple fool, having brought along a snow cap, gloves, warm-up pants, long underwear and warm socks.  Prepared?  Yes.  But do people really run in 5 degrees?  I managed a nice 5 miles on a tread mill Wednesday morning.    

I was booked to fly onto New York Wednesday evening, right smack into the heart of one of the worst snow storms in recorded history.  As the day progressed, I found out thousands of flights were being cancelled as snow battered Washington D.C and New York.  Sure enough, my flight was cancelled too.  I was minutes away from aborting my trip to the east coast altogether when I learned I was now booked on the only flight into New York Wednesday night.  Yea, right.  Like this plane is really going to fly into the middle of this raging monster when no others would dare.  I started making plans to spend another night in Minneapolis.

But as the clock ticked closer to the 6 pm boarding time, I kept checking for a cancellation notice.  Nothing.  I started making my way to the airport.  When I arrived I quickly looked at the departure monitors, sure to see a big “Cancelled” next to my flight.  Nothing.  Come on guys, now you’re going to make me go through security and walk all the way to the gate, only to tell me my flight is cancelled like the thousands of others into New York.  But as I approached the gate, it finally hit me.  This plane is going to take off.  And I’m supposed to be on it.

“We are scheduled to touch down at 11:45 p.m.” the pilot announced.  “But it could take longer because we’ll probably be in a holding pattern for a while due to the storm” he added.  Great, I thought.  We are taking off and we don’t even know if we can land!  In the end, we made it.  And when we touched down, the entire plane erupted in applause.  I was making my way off the jetliner and I heard one of the ground crew saying our pilot was a hero because ours was the only plane that landed that night.  Nice. 

As I was running through Central Park early Thursday morning, it dawned on me that, as runners, sometimes we just have to “get through it”.  Be it snow storms, cancelled flights, late-night arrivals, just “getting through it” means simply lacing up our shoes and getting out there.  Then comes Friday morning, and I’m now in Boston, running next to the frozen Charles River.  The sky is clear, and the sun is rising in the blue sky.  I made it over the bridge to Cambridge, where I get my first glimpse of the MIT campus. 

As I’m heading back,  a youngish college kid runs by me at a good clip.  I shuffle along, taking in the scenery.  Not knowing, my feet begin turning over a little faster.  Now a couple hundred yards ahead of me, I notice the youngish one isn’t taking any more ground.  I’m gaining ground.  I look down at my GPS.  7 minute pace….6:45, 6:30…Now I’m shadowing him by a few yards.  Ok…feet.  When he looks over his shoulder, his pace quickens.  My stride is steady.  I quietly pull up next to him, listening.  I hear labored breathing.  With miles in the bank, I gently shift into the next gear and begin to separate.  My legs carry me now.  Yes.  These are the moments. 

Getting through it. 

February 3, 2010

Are We Lunatics?

It's a mystical place, the moon.  Surface temperature over 450 degrees;  one quarter the size of the earth, very close to the size of the Pacific Ocean.  No other object in the night's sky has captured our imagination so deeply.  On July 20, 1969, after circling the earth for some 4.5 billion years, the moon's soft surface was, finally, touched by a human .  It's said that this "one small step", firmly planted where wind and water do not exist, will remain intact for some 10 million years.

Historically speaking, the moon has also gotten a bad rap.   The word "lunatic" stems from the Latin Lunacus or luna, which translates to the English word moon.  Oddballs, or those considered to be "not playing with a full deck" have been labeled "loonies", likely due to the old belief that madness in humans was directly related to the phases of the moon.  What are now referred to as mental institutions or even assisted living facilities were, in the day, simply "loony bins" or "lunatic" asylums.      

On June 26, 2010, at 9:01 p.m., over the rocky peaks and foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a full moon will rise from the east.  With it will come its own light, gaining strength as the twilight fades from the setting sun.  Underneath this same moon light, several hundred runners will be making their way toward the finish line of the Western States 100 mile endurance run.  I'm looking forward to that moment. 

Sometimes people ask me why anyone would want to run 100 miles.  Honestly?  I don't have a good answer.  Marathons are one thing, but 100 miles just seems so "crazy", I often hear.  Crazy?  Maybe.  Loony?  For sure.