Monday, February 24, 2014

Trashing the Trends

I have never liked trendy things. In middle school I wore silk shirts and jeans because it is what all other other kids wore. Keep in mind, just a few years before this I was sporting Starter jackets, Hypercolor shirts, and Zubaz pants. And now a days, it seems as though Uggs and North Face are the official sponsor of college females across the country. Every facet of life has accumulated its own trendy characteristics, and thus twenty years after middle school, within my own hobby of running, I am still fighting the trends.

Why do I hate trends? Well, first of all it seems like every day some doctor, or other professional is telling you about some research that profoundly changes the way you should live. Diets and exercise come to mind first. In the last 15 years we have all heard ad nauseam the various kinds of diets we should have, what we should eat, and what we shouldn't eat. The Atkins diet, low carb, paleo, vegan, South Beach, using fat for fuel, gluten free, wheat free, on and on, and on. It gets so convoluted, restrictive, and confusing, it's no wonder people jump from one fad diet to another. And although a lot of these diets are based in science, much of them contradict one another to the point of utter frustration.

The same goes for running gear and running techniques. Do I use pose method, chi running, to heel strike, or to land forefoot? Ugh. In 2009 a book about barefoot running comes out, bashes Nike's bulky shoes, and presto, you have a instant trend towards minimalist footwear. And again, minimalist footwear, like the diets, has some benefits proven by scientific testing (albeit potentially biased). The following years saw the shoe market explode with minimalist everything, and people flocked to the stores to buy them. Folks, it's all a marketing gimmick to make people money. For a few years, the shoe companies had everyone picturing themselves frolicking in the mountains like Tony Krupicka in a tiny little pair of six ounce shoes. The ensuing years, however, were followed by a lot of overuse injuries acquired by runners who were too overzealous in ramping up their high mileage running in shoes their bodies were not used to.

Enter Karl Meltzer and Hoka One One. Funny, just a few years ago people dreamed about scampering over rocks with nimble proprioception in their Vibram Five Fingers. Now, runners who have been dealing with years of aches and pains all of sudden find themselves floating along in the new "clown shoes". Recovery times have never been quicker, and the "time to fly" is now all the time. Now having a fully cushioned ride is all the rage, and people can't seem to get enough of the puffy stuff. So how exactly, in less than two years, did the minimalist movement lose ground to the current maximalist movement? Marketing strategy. Nothing more and nothing less. This doesn't mean minimalist and maximalist don't have scientifically proven benefits, but neither is the end all be all of shoes. People tend to dive 100% into the new fads, dump their money into unproven products and theories, which they will probably change in a year anyway.
(photo courtesy of Ultraspire)

Shoes and gear will not compensate for your genetics, or make you heal faster. Kids in Africa run barefoot all the same, but that does not mean you can. Most of us sit behind desks, go to work in dress shoes, and at best run on a regular basis. Buying a new pair of shoes will never compensate for a lifetime's worth of a style of life unless you can truly commit to years, and decades of going barefoot. On the other hand, bulky shoes like Hokas feel amazing, especially if you are someone who has had chronic injuries and are tired of feeling like running beats you up too much. However, your ideal stride is designed for the natural dimensions of your body. Adding another inch of cushion means you are very unnaturally altering your stride impact points, regardless of the heal to toe drop on your shoes. I believe this inhibition of the natural stride will cause hip, lower back, and other injuries. The fact that people practice little sense of moderation with new shoes will exaggerate this effect. Moderation does not mean easing into a pair of shoes in a few weeks, or even months, but possibly in terms of years. However, nobody is patient enough to want to comprehend that.

Other things I have learned:

1) Compression gear is a placebo. Wearing tighter clothes with specific pressure points has never been proven to promote better performance. The idea of enhanced circulation and oxygenation to the muscles doesn't add up. I could do a whole separate post about compression gear, which I do own (along with yes Hokas and everything else mentioned), but it will be for another day.

2) All bodies are not created equal. We all "know" this, but fail to practice it. What works for others may not work for you. The quicker you can be okay with that, the less money you will waste on things that will never benefit your body type.

3) Gear will not make you faster. Running faster will make you run faster. If you weigh 250 lbs and think dropping from a 9 ounce shoe to an 8 ounce shoe will make you faster, you might want to reconsider where your weight really needs to come off.

4) Gear will not increase your endurance. Running farther and at a higher intensity, as well as sound in-race nutrition is what will increase your endurance. Trust the training, not the product.

5) You will race the way you train. If you never run harder in training, it certainly won't happen on race day. If all you do is long slow trail runs, all you will be able to do is long slow trail runs.

6) Well planned use of gear and logistics can help cut time during longer events. Sometimes a good strategy can make up for speed. Just don't rely on it all the time.

7) Elite athletes don't need the gear they are sponsored by to be fast. Remember, they were fast first, sponsored second. It's never the other way around.

8) You don't need a long run every week. Runners can tend to be super OCD about training schedules and mileage. A solid long run every other week trumps a so-so, maybe fatigued and forced, long run every week. If you are tired 3 miles into a planned 20 miler, cutting it short is smarter than pushing to a crappy 4-5 hour slog. Despite what others may think, a long slog may actually hurt your training and set you back.

9) There IS such a thing as bad miles. A few good days of rest can do more for your training than a bunch of tired runs. We need to kick the idea that active always equals good and sedentary always equals bad.

10) More miles is not always better. Some of the best distance runners only run 50-70 miles per week (less than 3k per year), even when training for 100's. A well devised 60 mile week can provide better training than 100 mile weeks of constant slow stuff, and with a lesser chance of overuse injury. We read about elites and their sexy 150-200+ mile training weeks, and think surely bigger is better. Nope.

11) HAVE FUN! Running is our hobby, our privilege, our passion, but not our job. 99.99% of our elite runners have other jobs. A 15 minute 5k runner, a 2:20 marathoner, or even a sponsored ultra runner is not going to make much money off running. Lighten up and enjoy it!


Michael Bielik said...

Well said!!!!

ultrarunnergirl said...

Good things to ponder. I will say, for myself, compression makes a marked difference in how sore I am after a long run/race. The less your body parts/skin bounces, the better.

Trunil said...

Thank you for this post!!!

Mike Bailey said...


I have used compression gear in the past, and can't say it has helped, or hurt my running. The concept of reduced muscle vibration seems logical, though there isn't quite enough evidence that reducing vibration also reduces fatigue. Plenty of athletes have done well over the years, long before all our new fangled gear existed. The only thing I have seen with any real "proof" is that recovery post race and veinous return on worn out muscles seems marginally better. In race performance is still a bit iffy in terms of lactic acid reduction and blood flow.

William Read said...

I agree with what you say. Unfortunately genetics play the dominant role in how anyone responds to about anything it seems. I know this from experience. When I was in school I did the long runs, tempo runs, intervals, two a days, trained with people better than I am, diet control, and about everything I could think of to get better and at the end of all this I was only a 15 minute 5k runner which was not good enought to make the team. Of course disappointed and burned out, I quit running.

Got a job and started running again with my company's running club. Now I was the star runner running with people slower than I am ( to the tune of 30 sec to 1 minute per mile slower) at the group pace. I only did interval training if there was a particular race I was targeting and then only 1 session a week for 6 to eight weeks. Hard tempo runs only happened if I had a time constraint at work. By far however I mostly ran slow junk miles and guess what happen, I was running 15 minute 5 K again and I even got faster than I was in college at longer stuff..

The take home lesson I learned from all this is that while obviously you have to do the training, my genetic potential was that of a 15 minute 5K runner and the details of the training did not matter very much. I have seen evidence that this applies to other people also. In high school there were a number of star runners who got full ride scholarships that trained at my pace which must have been easy for them because they could run a two mile a minute faster than me. They go to college and train with people who are faster than they are and don't improve in fact often regress a bit. So do what is enjoyable and let the race performances fall where they may.

A lot of this can be very mental too. When you are suffering a lot in training then the only reward is to score PRs or wins in races. And if that doesn't happen it really sucks and is depressing. It's like giving up buying something you want in order to invest some money and having your investment lose value. Where as if you mostly train comfortably with friends the whole experience is much more enjoyable and your running focus revolves around that rather than racing and that makes racing much more enjoyable too. Just a final thought, In school I ran for about six years and was ready to walk away from it for ever. When I returned to running at age 26-27 with a more low keyed attitude, 30 years later I am still running and enjoy it a lot more.