Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Yea Taper Time! Boo Taper Time!

During a past training cycle, I overheard one of my runners telling another runner (who sometimes
runs with us but isn't one of my race trainees), that he was in his marathon taper time. The other runner proceeded to tell my runner, "I never tapered before a race. It's a waist of time. You lose too much of what you've gained." My runner proceeded to say, "I don't know, I really think there is something to this taper thing. I'm going to follow what my coach has planned out for me. I mean I paid for it. Might as well, follow the plan. But, it makes sense what he's telling me."

That was a proud moment as a coach. This particular runner did not follow the plan with his previous race. Every run was a hard run. He put in extra runs on his own and didn't taper. Result? He got injured a few weeks prior to race day. He still tried to race on race day and injured himself more. This training cycle, he decided to follow the plan and he was doing great! The other runner is a fast runner. But like my race trainee's former self, he runs every run hard and never tapers. As a result he's often injured. I often kid this runner (but not really) that he's not allowed to talk to my runners trying to lure them to the dark side.

More is not better. Never a better example than with marathon taper. The marathon taper is probably THE most important part of race training. So, what is taper time? There are different approaches, but the standard taper for marathon training begins three weeks prior to race day.Typically the last long run (which is often your longest run) is three weeks from race day. The following long run is 75% of the longest run, and then the long run before race day is 50% the distance of the longest run. So, if you're longest run is 20 miles, then the following weekend the long run will be 15 miles, then the next long run will be 10 miles with the following weekend being race day. The mileage of the other weekly runs during this time can begin to decrease as well. My runners usually have a speed workout on Mondays, a tempo/progression run on Wednesdays, and easy run on Thursday or Friday and then their long run on Saturday. During Taper time, the distance of the Wednesday runs begins to decrease and usually I have them run an easy 4 miler the Wednesday the week of race day.

So what makes doing less the last three weeks help you on race day? High mileage week after week depletes a runner's glycogen levels. It also decreases levels of enzymes, hormones and antioxidants. Research has shown that these levels return to normal during taper. Even more important is the repair of muscle damage that takes place during taper. Runners that push their training up to race day also run the risk of compromising their immune system increasing the chances of catching a bug before race day. Taper allows the body time to bolster the immune system. Research has also shown that runners that heed the taper tend to have times 5 to 10 minutes faster on race day than those that do not taper in their training.

The main problem with marathon taper is what I call the Stir-Crazy Complex. You've been running, running, running, for so many months then all of the sudden, just before race day, you're not running nearly the mileage. It can play with your mind. Doubt begins to creep in. You become insecure that you've done enough. This is normal. This is where you have to Trust in your Training. Believe in Yourself. And Conquer your Goal on race day. Doing more may occupy your brain and your body, but it will only hurt you on race day.

Use taper time to relax, recover, and focus on nutrition. Also use this time to think through mental strategies for race day as well as make your race day check list. A check list is particularly important if your running a destination race involving travel.

Also use this time to reflect on and appreciate all the hard work you've put in the past several months.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Lowdown on the Ketogenic Diet for Athletes

Ketogenics....isn't that what Michael Jackson wanted to do with his body after he died? Oh yeah, that's Cryogenics. My bad.   Well, I'm sure you've probably heard the term Ketogenics, even if you're not sure what it is.

The diet world is always a flutter with the newest this and the newest that. Actually, there really isn't anything new, it's just a new name for low-fat, high-fat, low-carb, or only eat Twinkies diet.

Many years ago we had the Atkins diet which was low carbs, then we had the Paleo diet which had many eating no carbs and getting in tune with their caveman ancestry, and now we have Ketogenics. All are really pretty similar in theory....Carbs are bad.

Ketogenics is all the buzz because it's often pitched as a beneficial diet for athletes. Being a coach and fitness trainer, I'm often asked about current nutrition trends. While I'm not a nutritionist and in the state of North Carolina I legally can't provide individual nutritional advice, I do try to keep up with the reading to be current on the latest research.

I've had 200 hrs of anatomy and physiology education and 100 hrs of nutritional education. So, while in no way am I an expert, I do have a good basis of understanding of how the body works and functions physically and nutritionally and my ears always perk up when a diet excludes a specific food group.

So when Sanna Delmonico, MS, RDN, CHES wrote an article ""Do Ketogenic Diets Work for Athletes" for the recent issue of IDEA Food and Nutrition Tips (Volume 6, Issue 5), I was very eager to read it.

Basically Delmonico addressed the question, "What do you think about a ketogenic diet for athletes? Does it really improve performance?"

Her response was pretty much what I thought. But first what is a ketogenic diet?  Delmonico describes a ketogenic diet as a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, usually including less than 50 g of carbohydrate per day (Paoli 2013). Carbohydrate, which is stored in the body as glycogen, is the preferred fuel for muscle and the brain. When this fuel isn’t available, the body turns to fat for energy and produces ketosis. The theory is that since we store much more energy as fat than as glycogen, athletes have a reliable, steady source of energy if they burn more fat, and this should improve performance.

Medically speaking, the ketogenic diet has been successful in treating epilepsy in children and in some adults and has shown some promise in weight loss  and type 2 diabetes. But, and this is a big but, long term, the ketogenic diet has risks. Continued use of this diet increased the chance of kidney stones, increased blood lipids and bone fractures. This diet also leads to constipation in many because it's so low in fiber. The low fiber component can also lead to increased chances of colorectal cancer.

Delmonico says that research has shown that over time, an athlete on a ketogenic diet becomes more efficient at burning fat. This adaption takes about 3-4 weeks and during that transition time, the athlete will feel very fatigued. So, this transition should be done well before a race training cycle. The thinking is that an endurance athlete like a marathon runner or triathlete would benefit from this because they'd have a longer sustained source of fuel. However, research has shown that while these athletes have become more efficient at burning fat, it hasn't added any benefit to athletic performance. However, higher carbohydrate diets did result in improved performance.

Delmonico concludes that more research is needed on Ketogenic diets for athletes. The positions of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine are that current evidence doesn't support the use of ketogenic diets to improve athletic performance.

Delmonico cautions athletes using the ketogenic diet to keep in mind that decreasing carbohydrate intake also decreases intake of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals from beans, whole grains, starchy vegetables and fruits.

Also keep in mind that the American Heart Association recommends reducing saturated fat to no more than 5 to 6 percent of total daily calories. This would be very hard to do on a Ketogenic diet.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Training? Feeling a Little Run Down?

Runners are notorious for digging a hole and jumping in. We'll push, push, push, thinking that if we just push a little harder, we'll break through that wall hindering us. While sometimes a little push is just what you need, other times, REST is what you need. So how do you tell the difference of when to push and when to rest? Listen to your body, know the difference between, "I don't wanna" and "I can't" and know the signs of fatigue and over training.

Do you feel that burn after a hard workout or a hard run? That's from pushing your body past what it's used to. Challenging yourself to harder more intense workouts (resistance training or aerobic training) over a period of time is called progressive overload. Progressive overload is how you train your body to adapt to the new conditions being put upon it. The key, however, is making sure that along with the progressive overload you are also giving your body time to recover. Ever notice how most marathon plans have you run a 20-miler followed by a day of rest and then the following week's "long run" usually isn't as long. That's progressive overload or stress adaptation. Build up. Back off a little. Build up. Back off a little. Overloading the body and then giving it a chance to recover, adapt, and heal before placing more stress upon it, is a great way to train.

The S.A.I.D. principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand) refers to the idea that your body adapts to the specific type of stress put upon it. So, when an endurance runner pushes to finish that 20-miler in a specific time frame, his/her body is adapting to that specific type of stress being put upon it.

The problem is many athletes (aerobic or anaerobic) don't give their bodies time to adapt before imposing more stress on their bodies. The create a recovery deficit....that hole they've dug and can't get out of. They're constantly stuck in the recovery period or worse, they become injured. This is called overtraining.

Often I hear a runner say, "but it's in my plan" or "but my plan says." Runners often mistake a training plan for LAW. A training plan is merely a guide to help you reach your goal. A training plan sis like a travel plan...a map. Change will most likely need to be made along the way. A plan doesn't know the factors you may be dealing with in a given week...the stress of the job, lack of sleep from a sick child, dealing with allergies, that pothole you stepped in and twisted your ankle, that unplanned work trip thrown at you. Some times life has a different plan for you than what your race training plan had in store of you. A training plan is based on an ideal world. A training plan also, does not know how long your particular body may need to recover after that first 20-miler. The plan is your map. You are the driver and your running coach is your AAA consultant.

Some common signs of over training include:
  • persistent achiness, stiffness, or pain in the muscles and/or joints (beyond the typical delayed onset muscle soreness felt a couple of days after a workout)
  • waking up with an elevated pulse (good idea to take your waking resting pulse frequently to give you a base from which to compare)
  • lack of energy
  • fatigued and/or achy muscles
  • frequent headaches
  • feeling lethargic or sluggish
  • drop in athletic performance
  • not able to complete your normal workout
  • depressed, moody, unmotivated
  • nervousness
  • lack of sleep and/or appetite
  • weight loss
  • lowered immune system
An elevated pulse is also a good indicator of possible overtraining or even sickness such as a respiratory infection. If your waking resting pulse is elevated more than a few beats, you could have an infection or be suffering from overtraining. In either case, taking a day off may be the best thing. Rest is the best thing for overcoming overtraining. If rest doesn't do the trick, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Other Causes of Fatigue When Training Include:

Improper Hydration can also be a source of fatigue. Most people in general don't get enough water (2-3 liters) each day. If you fall into that category and you're also not replacing the water you're losing through perspiration from running, you're risking dehydration. A sure sign of dehydration is fatigue. In addition to your normal daily hydration requirements, you should drink 12-16oz of water about an hour before your run. One good way to determine how much you need to drink after your run is to weigh yourself before your run (without your running shoes), then weigh yourself immediately after your run (without your running shoes). For every pound lost, you should drink 16oz of water. Don't have to drink all that immediately after your run. Drink some and then make sure you get in the remainder within a few hours after your run. No need to weigh before and after every run, but if you do it on a mild day and once on a really hot/humid day, then you'll have a frame of reference to help you determine how much to drink after runs in various conditions.
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If you're running less than an hour, water is perfect. If you're running an hour or longer, a sports drink will be a better choice especially on hot/humid days because it will help replace vital electrolytes (mainly sodium and potassium) lost through sweating.

Alcohol consumption should be decreased during training. Excess alcohol consumption can increase your chance of dehydration in several ways. Alcohol decreases your body's production of anti-diuretic hormone. This hormone is used by the body to reabsorb water. Having less of this hormone causes you to urinate more increasing your fluid loss. Side Note: The average beer is about 4-5% alcohol. When you drink a 200ml beer, you don't just urinate 200ml of water, but more like 320ml of water which calculates out to 120ml of dehydration. (Sorry, for the bad news.)  

Lack of Sleep is a big-time cause of fatigue. Your body does most of it's repair and rebuilding while you sleep. If you're not getting enough sleep, then you're not giving your body time to heal. Plain and simple. Sleep requirements can vary from person to person. Teenagers need about 9 hours on average (mine seem to need about 15!). Most adults need 7 to 8 hours a night for the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as 5 hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day. Fatigue can result when your normal sleeping hours are shortened for whatever reason—stress of a new job, a new baby, or that heartburn you got from the 5-meat pizza you ate just before bed. If you're not getting your normal amount of sleep, then you need to back off on your training until your sleep hours are back to normal.

Low Iron Levels can be another cause of fatigue. If you've ruled out other possible causes of fatigue, it may be worth having your doc take a blood test to check your iron levels. This can especially be problematic for some women during their menstrual cycle. Sometimes just a change in diet can help boost your iron levels, but sometimes an iron supplement may be needed. (Check with your doctor before taking an iron supplement.) Good food sources of iron include: turkey, clams, enriched breakfast cereals, beans/lentils, pumpkin seeds, blackstrap molasses, canned beans, baked potato with skin, enriched pasta, canned asparagus.

Sometimes you may not experience the fatigue during your run. For some the fatigue may come after the run. Insufficient Post-Run Re-Fueling can be the culprit. If you've had an intense workout, it's normal to feel tired, but if you're feeling fatigue that just won't go away, you may not be giving your body enough refueling carbs and protein after your run. A good rule of thumb is to consume a 4:1 ratio of carbs and protein within 30-45 minutes of finishing your workout. Oddly enough, lowfat chocolate milk has the optimal ratio of carbs to protein to help refuel tired muscles.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Marathon To-Do List

If you're in the heat of marathon training, you're probably 100% focused on your workouts. There's another side to preparing for a marathon that often gets overlooked. I'm talking about getting to your race destination. I'm currently training for my 17th marathon and  I've learned a few things along the way that have helped me out on race day.

Marathon Trip To-Do List
1. Book your room! Marathons are getting larger and larger and it's getting harder and harder to find a room (especially at a reasonable price). Race websites often have special deals at area hotels. If you try to book a room through the race website and all the rooms are full, don't fret just yet. That usually just means the block of rooms the hotel has at the special marathon rate is full. If that's the case, try one of the many discount travel sites like priceline.com, Travelocity, or Airbnb. When it's just been me traveling to a race, I've even used a hostel. One of my Trips to the NYC Marathon, I stayed in a hostel for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room. At this particular hostel, I had my own room, but the floor shared two large restrooms with showers. It was old and definitely had character, but it was in a great location on the upper West Side. Great little bakery next door. While I was getting my breakfast bagel the day before the race, there was an extremely tall man in line in front of me. Turned out to be Conan O'Brien! The day after that race, I was having lunch in a little restaurant along Central Park. While eating my lunch I heard this very distinct voice behind me. Turned around and it was Regis Philbin and his wife, Joy. So, cool!   
2. Find out what sports drink and/or sports gel will be provided along the course. Either train using what will be provided at the race or decide to carry your own or have family members/friends provide it for you along the course  (the latter is often hard on larger races or on isolated races where spectator access along the course is difficult). Never train using one brand then switch to another on race day.
3. Plan out what you're doing for food while at your race. You've probably figured out your dinner each night before your training long runs. But what are you doing the night before the race day? Will you be able to find food at a restaurant similar to what you've been eating at home? If you plan to eat out the night before the race, research some area restaurants to see which will best meet your needs. Then go ahead and make a reservation. Or better yet, pack your food and eat in the room. If possible, book a hotel with a kitchenette. These rooms usually have a small stove or cook top and refrigerator. Now you'll be able to fix your normal pre-run dinner and breakfast!
4. Become familiar with the race course. No need to memorize every street name and turn, but identifying major hills and other course challenges can be helpful.
5. Keep tabs on the weather. Periodically check weather.com  or one of the other weather sites or apps to see what the forecast is for race day; best to be prepared with cold/heat/rain gear than not. 30gal trash bags make awesome rain gear and are great for extra warmth before the race too. Just cut out head and arm holes and you're good to go. Don't need it for either? Makes a great mat to sit on prior to or after the race.
6. Give yourself plenty of travel time, especially if the race is out of town. If going to a new city, it's best to arrive two days before the race. This gives you time to acclimate to your surroundings and a new bed. It also allows you time to get to the race expo without panic that you're not going to make it in time.
7. Pack your race-day clothes and running shoes in your carry-on bag if you're flying. If your luggage gets lost you'll be able to run as planned.
8. Pick up your race packet early. No need to wait until the last minute to pick up your packet. You never know what may come up to delay pickup.
9. Take a sample but don't use a sample. Runners are often overwhelmed at large race expos. Every running related vendor imaginable will be at these expos, each handing you hydration and fueling samples. Take all of these you want, but don't eat any at the expo and definitely don't use any on race day that you've never used on a training run. Same with gear and clothing. Unless you forgot your running shorts, don't wear something on race day that you purchased at the race expo.
10. Have a plan for where to meet your family/friends after the race. No need speeding longer than it took to run the marathon looking for your family. Many races have family meeting areas, but depending on the race, those areas can be huge. If you get to the race site a day or two early, scope out the finish line area and go ahead and pick out an area for you and your family/friends to meet.
11. Layout your racing clothes, shoes, and gear the night before the race. Go ahead and pin your race bib on your shirt. Anything you plan to wear or carry with you while you run, lay it out. This will help you sleep better and save time in the morning.

12. Don't overdress for the race. Rule of thumb is to dress like it's 10-15 degrees warmer than it really is. Your body will warm up at least by that much while running. 
13. Take along some old sweats to the start. You don't want to overdress for the race, but some races have you at the start really early and it can get chilly in the wee hours of the morning especially at a fall or winter marathon. You can pick up old sweats at Good Will or a thrift shop for next to nothing! Wearing old sweats will keep you warm while you wait and then you can toss them at the start. Many races donate the discarded clothing to local homeless shelters. That 30gal trash bag mentioned earlier, comes in handy too for extra warmth.
14. Have your mental strategies rehearsed for Race Day. Don't start out too fast! There's a saying, "Most races are lost in the first mile." That often a very true statement. It's very easy to get caught up in the hoopla of the start and before you know it you're running a minute faster pace than you're supposed to! Hold fast to the pace at which you've trained. You can turn in on later in the race, if you've got extra gas in your tank.

15. Trust in your training and enjoy yourself!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Let's Cut to the "Chafe"

"Chafe." There, I said it. One of those words, no body likes. As soon as you hear it, you immediately
have a reference point in your memory of an oh-so painful run where you ended up waddling back to you car or even worse a blood curdling Psycho shower scene where you screamed at the top of your lungs during a post long-run shower, only to have your entire family running to your aide for sure thinking you've fallen in the shower or a snake has crawled in with you.

Almost every runner has experienced chafing at some point. If you haven't, I envy you greatly. In fact there is an entire industry devoted to anti-chafing products with quite creative names such as Body Glide, Squeaky Cheeks Performance Powder, Gold Bond Friction Defense, SportSlick, NipGuards, Hoo Ha Ride Glide, Boudreaux's Butt PasteAnti Monkey Butt, and the list goes on. Many of the products target cyclists who have obvious chafing issues, but all the products work the same. Any athlete, no matter the sport, can use any or all of these products.

There's also the standard Band-Aids, petroleum jelly, and diaper rash products that work great too. Unlike normal petroleum jelly and diaper rash products, most of the anti-chafe products are designed without the goopy feel and most are designed not to stain your clothing (although some do a better job of that than others). Some of these products are similar in use and feel to that of a deodorant stick, others are creams, and still others are powders. They all work, but some are more effective and last longer than others. Aquaphor Healing Ointment by Eucerin is great to use on a chafed area after a run.

Band-Aids are often used by the guys to protect their nipples from chafing. Chafed nipples are extremely painful, if not for the runner, then for the spectators who think the runner has been the victim of a drive-by shooting. OUCH!! NipGuards work similarly to Band-Aids, keeping the nipple covered and protected from abrasive fabric. I had a hilarious incident using band aids in a race once. I found these waterproof circle adhesive bandages just the right size. So, I bought the box, pleased with how much money I had saved. They applied perfectly and the adhesive was great. They weren't goin' nowhere. So, I'm running the race, and I notice my shirt protruding at the chest. I'm in the heat of the race, and I'm not in pain, so I continue and don't give it another thought. That is until after the race. When I finished, my chest was really protruding. I took my shirt off only to find that the waterproof bandages did their job perfectly. They were so waterproof that all the sweat inside the bandage got trapped. I had two nice balloon pasties! Now that's a memorable chafe-free run!

So, what causes chafing? There are several things that can set a runner up for chafing. Chafing can result from skin-on-skin contact (very often happens along the inner thigh) and it can result from skin-on-fabric contact (this often is the cause of chafed nips for guys and for ladies chafing along the upper torso and back from their sports bra rubbing their skin). Ladies, I know it's hard enough finding the right jog bra for you and then on top of that you have to deal with chafing issues. Be sure, like with your other running clothing, that your sports bra is made of a breathable technical fabric (usually 100% polyester or a mix of polyester, Lycra, and or spandex.) Test out any or all of the aforementioned anti-chafing products on the areas that seem to be prone to chafing. Body Glide actually makes a Body Glide for Her that is designed for the sensitive areas around the bra line. If you're currently dealing with a chafing hot spot, but you still want to run, try using a product by Band-Aid called Band-Aid Advanced Healing Blister Cushions. You can apply this to the chaffed area and it will protect that area from additional chafing while on the run. These are also great for blisters on the feet.

Moisture often aggravates chafe-sensitive areas. Heavy sweaters may have more problems with chafing. A runner who normally doesn't experience chafing, may find they're chafed after a run in the rain or after a run when it's been extremely humid. New running clothes are often the cause of chafing. It's good rule of thumb to never wear anything new on a long run and definitely on race day. 100% cotton is another culprit. Cotton is awesome for casual wear, but for a runner it can be a chafe-trap. Cotton retains moisture. This moisture (along with cotton becoming a bit abrasive when wet) can cause terrible chafing where ever the wet cotton fabric is rubbing on the skin. Blisters on your feet? Check the cotton content of your socks. Socks, like your other running clothes, should be made of technical fabric.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The 15-Mile Freakout

Raise your hand if you're in the midst of marathon training. Raise your hand if you had a recent 14, 15, or 16-mile run that freaked you out? Was it a tough one? Were you freaking out, thinking, "That just about killed me! How am I going to run 26.2 miles?"

You're not alone. I call it the 15-mile Freakout!

Not sure what it is about the 15-mile mark, but it's a common mileage for a mini-meltdown to occur. You're probably about a month into your training and your body is still acclimatingphysically and mentally. You're putting a lot of demands on your body and it takes about 4 to 6 weeks for the body to level out and really start to feel stronger than when you started. Particularly if you're a first time marathoner, mile 15 is typically quite a milestone. It's the bridge from that familiar 10-miler to the new frontier of the yet-to-achieve 20-miler.

The cause of that hard 15-miler can the result of the accumulation effect, just all those weeks of more mileage than you're used to coming to a peak at the 15-mile mark. You're body is fatigued and telling you so. After a really hard run like this, it's fine to modify your training to allow for some extra recovery time. Typically after a long run, you'll have a complete day of rest in your plan. Definitely take that, but also take a second day of rest, if needed. Or, if the next run after your post long-run rest day is a speed workout, make it an easy short recovery run. Allow the legs time to recover.

Often another cause of the 15-mile freakout run is lack of proper fueling or hydration. Up to this point, doing what you normally do for your normal 8 to 10 milers has probably worked fine, but now that you're running longer and your body is needing more fuel and hydration support. This run is often the wake-up call letting you know the one piece of toast and cup of coffe before your long run and maybe a sip of Gatorade or water on the run just ain't gonna hack it. Your 4 months of training is not just for training your body. It's also time for you to figure out how to best fuel and hydrate your body. These training long runs are the time to figure out your fueling regimen--which fuel sources best work for you and your body and how often to take them.

So, how do you survive the freakout? First, take a deep breath. Then understand it's natural to feel this way. Your brain has all kinds of protective mechanisms, one of which is to tell you that you can't do something. But remember that just because you can't do something now doesn't mean you can't do something after 2 or 3 more months of race training. Can you run 26.2 miles right now? Probably not. Are you supposed to be able to run 26.2 miles right now? Definitely not. It's a process. I had one runner once who, unbeknownst to me, put in a full marathon about 3/4 of the way through his training because he needed to know he could run 26.2 miles before running the 26.2 miles on race day. Well, lets just say that peace of mind, gave him nothing but grief and injury. He ended up not running on race day. You can't do something you're not ready for without risking injury. It's not worth it.

If you're following your training as prescribed, taking rest days as prescribed, listening to your body (and coach) and taking extra rest days as needed, and you're properly fueling and hydrating, then  you'll get where you want be on race day. Trust. Believe. Conquer!

Have your freakout. Then move on. You've got a lot of work to do!!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

If The Shoe Fits

Finding the right running shoe can be a daunting task. Take myself for example. My favorite Hoka, "Huaka" was discontinued. I was at a loss. Several of the other Hoka models just didn't seem to work for my feet. I had previously run in the Altra Paradigm, so I tried that again. But, Altra did something to the sizing and my orthodic no longer worked in the Paradigm. So for about a year, I struggled to find a new long run shoe. Finally, I discovered that the Altra Bondi 5 worked for me. I'm now on my second pair and love them.
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All that struggle and I know my feet and the type of shoe I need. I have great empathy for new runners who know very little about their feet or what type of shoe they need. So, I've worked up 6 tips to help you find the right running shoe for you.

Tip #1: Know the Different Types of Foot Strikes. A runner can be a heel-striker, midfoot (flat foot) lander, or forefoot landing runner.

  • A heel-striker lands with his/her foot ahead of his/her center of mass landing on the heel first and can be neutral, over-pronate, or supinate (under-pronate). A neutral heel striker lands on the heel then the forefoot lands with an even follow-through as the runner pushes off with his/her toes. A heel-striker that pronates, tends to land on the outer heel first, then as the fore foot begins to land, the ankle drops inward and the runner tends to follow through more on the big toe rather than all of the fore foot. And a heel-striker that is a supinator or under-pronator, lands on the outer heel and tends to remain on the outer/lateral portion of the foot toeing off the outside of the fore foot. A neutral runner will typically do well with a neutral shoe with cushion. An over-pronator will typically need a stability shoe that has some type of arch support to restrict the amount of inward roll. There are various levels of stability from mild to strong. Just because you pronate doesn't mean you need a strong stability shoe. A supinator typically uses a neutral shoe with cushion too. A supinator does not need additional arch support which would only push his/her foot outward even more.
  • A midfoot or flat foot runner lands with his/her foot  underneath or closer to his/her center of mass. Because of this, a midfoot lander lands on all of the foot at once. This is why midfoot is sometimes referred to as "flat foot." Flat foot often has a negative connotation, but in running it's a good thing. Landing on more of the foot and not on the heel, often lessens the amount of pronation or gets rid of it altogether. It also lets the runner have more of a fluid push-off instead of a pull-then-push which a heel striker does. This more immediate push creates less impact and lets the body work like a shock absorber. A midfoot lander typically doesn't need a lot of extra support in a shoe because of the fact that they are landing on more of the foot all at one time decreasing or completely eliminating that heel-to-toe movement and chance of inward roll. Now sometimes a midfoot lander can still have ankle issues and may need some stability, but usually not as much as a heel-striker.
  • A forefoot lander is very similar to a midfoot lander in that the foot lands underneath the body or very close to the runner's center of mass, however instead of landing on all of the foot, this runner lands on the forefoot or metatarsals of the foot. Like the midfoot landing, the forefoot landing also lessens the amount of pronation or gets rid of it altogether. It also lets the runner have more of a fluid push-off instead of a pull-then-push which a heel striker does. This more immediate push creates less impact and lets the body work more like a shock absorber. A forefoot lander typically doesn't need a lot of extra support in a shoe because of the fact that they are landing on just the front of the foot. A forefoot lander typically needs a flexible shoe. Some may need some cushioning in the forefoot area.

Tip #2: Know the Deal About Drop and Stack: Drop and Stack are current buzz words in the running shoe industry. What are they and how are they different? Well, allow me to back up a little. The barefoot craze that began in 2009-2010 started researches and runners alike thinking about a more natural way of running. Since bare feet is not such a great concept for running shoe companies, they soon began to play around with minimalist shoes. Soon you saw everything on the market from shoes with toes to running sandals. Nothing wrong with these shoes and they are still around today, but they didn't seem to work for the masses. A traditional running shoe has a heel-to-toe drop of about 12 mm. This higher heel tends to promote a heel-strike. Midfoot or forefoot landing fosters more of a natural running form. Kind of painful just thinking about running barefoot and landing on your heel. So, since the minimalist shoe market wasn't meeting the needs of the majority of runners, shoe companies began playing around with still providing cushion and support, but with a lower heel-to-toe drop. Several shoe companies such as Saucony lowered many of their mainline shoes from a 12mm drop to an 8mm drop. This seemed to go over well and soon other shoes with even a lower heel-to-toe drop of 5mm or less began to appear. Altra is company whose shoes have a zero drop. They are completely flat, but unlike minimalist shoes with no support, the Altra still provides various levels of cushion and support. So what is stack? Stack refers to the thickness of the shoe's outsole. Often the term maximalist pops up when talking about stack. Hoka is a running shoe company that produces maximalist running shoes. These shoes have a thick stack meaning the bottom sole of the shoe is very thick providing maximal cushioning. But, this stack has a low profile meaning the heel-to-toe drop is very minimal (around 2-5mm). It's a fairly flat shoe with a tick sole.
If you are a runner who is wearing a traditional shoe with a 12mm heel-to-toe drop, and you're thinking about going to a lower drop shoe or a shoe with a lower drop and thicker stack, keep in mind that you need to transition into these shoes. These shoes are great, but you'll be using muscles in different ways when wearing these shoes and you need to allow time for your body to acclimate to the differences. Start with short easy runs of a couple miles then over the course of a couple weeks, gradually add a half-mile to a mile to runs building up to your regular running distance.

Tip #3: Visit Your Local Running Store. Go to your local running store to get fitted for a pair of shoes. but be a discerning shopper. You really can't tell what type of shoe a runner needs by having him/her walk. Walking is completely different from running. 99% of walkers are going to heel-strike (land on the heel first then follow through and toe-off.). Around 80% of runners are heel-strikers of some sort, so the chances of the clerk determining you are a heel striker are good, but what if  you are in that 20% who are not heel strikers? What if you are a midfoot or forefoot landing runner? Also the severity of pronation or supination can be very different between walking and running. So, if you're buying loafers, have them watch you walk. If you're buying running shoes have them watch you run. Running shoes are a big investment for most runners, particularly new runners who are not used to shelling out $100-$150 for a pair of shoes. So don't be timid. Ask questions. Also a good running store is going to allow you to try on as many shoes as needed to find the one that fits best and feels good to you. Notice I said "to you." If you feel you're being pushed into a particular shoe. Walk away. Recommendations are great, but the decision should be yours. Now keep in mind, if you're buying a pair of shoes because they're "cute," then you are all on your own. LOL! Make your purchase based on need and comfort, not style. I learned a long time ago that sometimes the shoe I need may be butt-ugly. But, butt-ugly and pain-free sure beats a tortuous, but cute run.

Tip #4: Let Your Feet Do the Shopping. Have an open mind. Best not to go into running shoe shopping thinking, "I want this brand or that brand." Let your foot pick the brand. There are some brands of running shoes, I think look really cool, but they just do not work with my feet.

Tip #5: Give Your New Shoes a Chance. New shoes are just that...new. It will take a few runs to break them in. If there is an obvious defect in the shoe causing discomfort, head back to the store, but otherwise, give them a few runs. Most stores have a good 60 or 90 day return policy even if you've run in them. Usually if you're returning shoes you've run in, they'll give you store credit.  Be sure to check out their policy before leaving the store.

Tip #6: Wear Your Running Shoes for Running. Typically running shoes are good for 300 to 500 miles. Whether you get 300 or 500 miles out of shoe really depends on the shoe and how quickly you break them down. Many running apps such as Strava allow you to keep track of shoe mileage and will email you a reminder when you reach a certain mileage. As mentioned earlier, walking is very different than running and will breakdown your running shoes differently than when you run in them. This can shorten the life of the shoe and can compromise the effectiveness of your shoes on the run. So, purchase a different pair of sneakers for knocking-around in and keep your running shoes for running.