Study of studies finds study of studies pointless

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At least that’s what the headline to this piece should have been.

If I had a penny for every meta-study that attempts to draw conclusions on other studies regarding barefoot running and the difference between shod and barefoot humans I’d have £57.23. But seriously when are we going to see an end to these pointless meta-studies?

It’s hard enough to run a real study on the benefits/pitfalls of walking/running without shoes. So a study that has to pick and choose from other studies to try and cobble together unrelated aspects that tried to prove/disprove some specific aspect of this subject is shear madness. Almost all studies I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot) fail before they start. The transition time to adapt your body to a completely different running gait is long and I’ve yet to see a long term study that takes this into account. What usually happens is they take a bunch of either habitually shod or unshod runners and make half of them run in the opposite manner. Then after about two weeks they draw their conclusions. This is completely flawed science and an absolute failure to understand the adaptations needed.

Actual studies worth their weight in gold focus only on a specific aspect of running and even then they are cautious in drawing any conclusions, usually with a heavily caveated summary. Of course these are then picked up by the press with attention click-bate grabbing headlines that distort the conclusions or lack of conclusions the study pointed to. Most readers will not seek out the full text of the study and simply blindly believe the press article was accurate in summarising the research – they never do. Selling newspapers, or clicks or screen views trumps accurate reporting. Money talks; science walks.

 

More Glass

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So this is the third glass splinter in my current running streak. I acquired this early on into my run and stopped a couple of times to brush away what I assumed was a tiny stone clinging to my foot under the forth metatarsal head on my left foot. But there was no stone, and as I continued the run I suspected it may be glass.

So after I’d finished and taken a shower, I set about digging it out. As I’ve noted before, digging small slivers of glass out of your foot is quite hard. It’s effectively invisible and so you can only do it by feel.

It still can hurt like hell, and this morning was no exception. Previous glass shards I’ve dug out haven’t even drawn blood. This little bugger though was 3 x 3 mm and 1 mm thick. You can easily see it in this photo, as it’s stained with my blood. It was lodged deep and didn’t initially want to come out. I almost gave up, thinking I’d use baking soda and a bath later. But one last go managed to dislodge it, and started the wound bleeding at the same time. I didn’t care; better out than in.

I think my recent run of glass is caused by two factors: I’m running everyday, so there’s more chance to get a splinter; my run starts by passing by three pubs, which spill out onto the pavement every night. I’m guessing that if a glass gets smashed on that block paved surface that tiny shards end up being left behind. I may try using the other side of the road and see if that helps.

Anyway, I just consider it an inconvenience. As, apart from the time it touched a nerve, it doesn’t stop me running and I mostly don’t realise I have a splinter until after my run.

Incidentally, I’m not using the scalpel to cut the glass out; merely in the same way you’d use a needle for the same aim. It’s just I find a scalpel a better tool for this as the wedge shaped blade is better at staying connected to the glass as I try to dislodge it. My blade of choice is a 10A blade, which was the preferred blade for graphic design paste-up, back in the days before everything was done on a computer.

Ninety-nine

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As I write this post I’m now one day away from having run everyday for the past 100 days. Well, at least I’ve been on this track for the past 99 days, there have obviously been some days when for whatever reason it didn’t happen; I’m not a robot. But I kept track of everyday, and looking back I can see there were only 10 days out of the hundred that I didn’t run. So that averages out at a rest day every 10 days, which I think is acceptable. Common perception is that you need rest days, so I’m okay with this. As long as the intention is for me to run everyday, I’m okay with missing the odd few days.

This whole three months has been really easy for me. Before I started I worried about doing too much, getting injured, etc. But that proved to be just that; worries. It had no basis in reality and now twelve weeks on, running when I get up is so natural and normal for me now, that on the days I did need to skip it, I really missed it.

I actually skipped five days last week and so was naturally worried that my body would punish me on the first day back. I couldn’t have been more wrong, it was as if I’d not been away. This is good news and shows that the conditioning of the past three months aren’t simply thrown away with a few days off.

The weather is of course getting colder now which will make it harder to convince myself to got out in it. However I’ve already ran in an English winter and it doesn’t phase me. Besides I’m only running 2k each time, so even when I don’t fancy it, I know that once I’m out there, I’ll be done in 10 minutes and that really encourages me. However it’s probably about time I started upping my distance. I’m in two minds about how to do this. Once school of thought is to up my regular morning distance. Another is to continue my morning runs unchanged, but to start introducing the odd evening run. The morning being the status quo and the evening being the pushing for further. Both have their pros and cons. I’ll decide which way to go by next week.

I’m still chuffed that I’m now doing 14k per week without shoes. This is the most consistency I’ve ever had with my running; shod or shoeless. Let’s see if I can keep it up.

Walking on Broken Glass

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Or in my case, running without shoes where glass was previously broken.

I noticed a sore area on my left big toe yesterday. Because I’d been reading up about the two tiny floating bones under your big toe’s metatarsal heads, called sesamoids, I naturally assumed I’d inflamed one of these somehow. So I did nothing about it for day thinking it would sort itself out. It was only running again the following day that I realised it must be a splinter. And on closer examination it must be a glass splinter, as I couldn’t see the foreign object at all.

This is the second glass splinter I’ve had during my current running-everyday-thing and both where incredibly tiny. I managed to get a photo of this one, and as you can see it’s less that 2mm across at its widest.

I’ve probably had around four splinters in total since I started kicking off my shoes four years ago. I guess having two in short succession is because my rate of running has gone up. Plus I guess it doesn’t help that I have to run past several bars where there is bound to be tiny fragments left over from a smashed glass or two. Too small to see, and that’s the point. This kind of tiny splinter is just not visible and both times I didn’t notice it going it; only realising much later.

So while I’m constantly on the lookout for broken glass in my path, in order to avoid it, these tiny splinters are completely unavoidable. Fortunately both were removed with little fuss with a needle. Which I was amazed about, as they literally are invisible while in the wound. Still there’s always the baking soda method if that doesn’t work in the future.

Sixty-six

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So it’s now been sixty-six days since I started my latest running effort of running at least a mile each morning. In fact I moved house and so for the past forty-five days I’ve actually been running 1.3 miles, or 2 kilometers each morning.

So far, so good. My soles no longer feel sore at all, and my musculoskeletal aches come and go; I just run through them. I’m hoping that running every single day will kick start a process called Mechanostat Modelling. Which is the process of bones and soft tissue becoming tougher in response to strain. The strain being enough to trigger this process, but no so much that an injury occurs.

I wrote about this process recently when updating one of the running pages. It’s a useful thing to keep in mind; no growth or strengthening occurs if you don’t push yourself slightly beyond what your body is already used to. It’s the root of the old saying ‘no pain, no gain‘.

I’m also running wearing my Correct Toes. It only took a couple of runs in them before I stopped giving a shit about people looking at them. I’m running shoe-less anyway, and that’s enough to get people to stare. This will just add further confusion to them. They’ll probably think I’m wearing ultra-minimalist shoes of some sort; who cares, they can think what they like.

So, two months in and it’s all going well. Let’s see how my enthusiasm holds as the weather gets colder. Summer is definitely over in the UK now and the dropping temperatures are already noticeable.

Posture

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We all know that good posture is a good thing, or rather bad posture is bad for us. It’s often touted that a benefit of ditching conventional shoes is improved posture. But what exactly do people mean by this? And what evidence do they have of any benefit?

Symptoms of bad posture include:

  • Back pain
  • Shoulder/neck pain
  • Headaches
  • Jaw pain (yes, really)
  • Reduced lung function

Permanent alterations to
your body include:

  • Anterior Pelvic Tilt
  • Thoracic Kyphosis
  • Rounded Shoulders
  • Hunchback

I think it’s hard to notice your own posture improving, unless it was really bad to start with. These changes happen over time so unless you took photographs before you began, it’s a little anecdotal at best.

However this week I attended a training course at RADA called, ‘Presenting with Power & Passion’. It was basically teaching you how to talk to an audience, without PowerPoint or any other props; just you and their attention. It was really quite amazing. Although I’m relatively okay with public speaking, I think there’s always more to learn.

The course centered around how you breath, speak and hold yourself. These three things deciding how much of the content you’re presenting actually gets through to the audience. So the third of these, how you hold yourself, or more correctly, your posture is very important if you want your audience to take you seriously. Also it seems that the right posture, improves your breathing, which in turn improves your oration. Thus the root of being an effective communicator starts with your posture; the foundation of which of course, are your feet.

In a 1-2-1 coaching session towards the end of the day, Johnny, our tutor personally addressed each participant’s posture, voice and breathing. We watched this process as he attended to each of us in turn. One thing that surprised me was that although everyone else’s posture needed correction, mine didn’t. I already had a perfect stance. As posture in this scenario is the basis for breathing correctly and ultimately orating like a professional; it seemed I had an inbuilt advantage. However I see no natural advantage in myself – I see that it’s been three years since I binned all my conventional shoes. That’s the posture advantage I had over my peers. I’ve been walking around without the hindrance of heeled shoes. Heeled shoes that permanently put the wearer off-balance and force the body into a crooked stance to compensate. That’s the advantage I had, three years of walking and standing correctly.

I’d previously thought my posture had improved since ditching the shoes, but this was the first evidence outside my own imagination.

More on Posture…

Thirty-three

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So I’ve been quiet on here for the past three weeks, but I’ve not been idle. I’ve continued to run 1 mile every day for the past 33 days now and I’ve encountered no problems whatsoever. I’ve had a couple of wobbles, but these have merely been landing on a small stone under my 2nd metatarsal head, and the following day’s run being a little tender in that spot. But the following day I got right back on the horse and never felt anything there again.

I also noticed that on days 18-23 my ankles and feet felt like they’d had a real workout. Not pain, just slight stiffness and aching. But I carried on regardless and this also subsided after only 6 days to leave me now feeling strong and capable. I’m not going to hurry stepping up this distance by any great margin. Although I am moving house at the weekend, and although I’m not moving far, I am moving slightly further away from my mile circuit of Clapham Common Westside, so this will increase my daily mile to 1.25 miles (2 km). I plan to do this distance, a quarter distance increase for another month to see how it goes.

Daily Habit

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As I’ve learned is the norm with running, or indeed any exercise program you set yourself; nothing ever goes to plan.

My latest effort to get back into running involved walking barefoot or in minimalist shoes for 5k every day for a month. Two weeks into this I started running a 1 mile route, leaving a whole week of rest in between, and reducing that rest period by a day each time. The original goal being to be able to run the 5k route I was walking; which actually morphed in being able to run the 1k route every day, but more on that later. The general aim of trying to achieve an overall distance per week in smaller, more frequent runs. I figured should be better for my feet, and most importantly, should make it easier for my feet to adapt. I wasn’t convinced running 2-3 times a week was enough to trigger the foot adaptations needed, as the activity wasn’t happening enough. But doing this every day must surely flick the appropriate switch in the body to start making my feet stronger in anticipation of this daily mile.

So what went wrong? I think my plan was the problem; it allowed for too much flexibility. I easily reduced the gap between runs to a single day and then kept it there for a while, wondering how to gradually step this up. I couldn’t just jump to running every day in one go. This would double the effort and be an easy route to injury; I’ve been here before and it never ends well. The trouble is, as I’ve proved to myself countless times: there’s a balance to strike between not overdoing it, and not doing enough through fear of overdoing it. If you don’t push yourself, you’ll never progress; push too far and injury sets you back.

What actually happened was I was running in the evening after getting home from work every other day. If I found I wasn’t going home straight from work on one of my run days, no problem, I’d just run the following day. It would probably do my body good to have the occasional two rest days I thought. However it only took a couple of days missing my run and I’d soon lost the habit. Combine that with a bout of illness and being away with work, and before I knew it, I’d not run for three weeks.

Then last Saturday I got up and went for a run first thing in the morning. The following day I did the same. I’ve now ran this 1 mile circuit every day for the past 8 days. The advantage of running first thing is I can pretty much always do this everyday. There aren’t excuses like working late, after work drinks, etc, to stop me. So far I’ve found it easy to motivate myself to get up and run. Each day I noticed my soles get progressively sore. By the Thursday – the 6th run in a row – my feet were really complaining. That was the sorest they’d been, and on that run they felt delicate. I persisted regardless. The following day wasn’t as bad. My feet felt tougher. This morning’s run seems to have told the same tale; my feet felt tougher still. I think I may have passed the tenderness barrier on Thursday, which I’d never have reached running every other day.

Also my calves have been okay. Three and half months ago when I started on this latest running streak, my calves complained afterwards for 6 days. It wasn’t anything silly like the first time I ever ran in barefoot shoes – that time I couldn’t walk properly for a week, having ran just 2 miles. But it was noticeable when I walked and wasn’t exactly comfortable. The next run, 2 days later my calve stiffness subsided, resulted in just two days of noticeable tightness. The next three runs after this it was only the next day, and the one following that I noticed no calve tightness at all. I’ve not done since, until I started going out each day. Although there I could feel it in my calves the day after the first run (don’t forget I’d had a break of three weeks beforehand), and the first few subsequent days. I realise now 8 days in, that I’ve forgotten I’d been monitoring it, which actually meant that it had gone away. I had by then become more interested about my soles and their soreness rating. So no problems with my calves at all. I’m convinced this has been helped by the little and often approach. Submitting the body to the same stresses everyday will activate the body to grown stronger in those regions to protect against and counteract the forces.

I’m going to attempt to keep this everyday thing up for as long as I can. I’ll let you know how I get on.

New training regime

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So it’s been two months now since I wrote on here that it had been five months since I’d last ran. Moving back to live right next door to Clapham Common was just the inspiration I needed to get going again.

Now since I’d had a break, the skin on my soles had become soft and unconditioned. I was starting again (almost) and I wanted to learn from my previous mistakes of overdoing it. So I read back through my blog, and came to the same conclusion I’d come to each and every time before. I’d overdone it. I’d got excited how easy it was to up the distance and simply overdone it. No matter how many times this happened, I seemed to make the same mistake time and time again. It was next exactly the same issue, but overdoing it was the cause every time. This time would be very different.

I considered that there were two things I needed to start to recondition. The musculoskeletal makeup of my leg, and the planter surface of my foot – my sole. So I started on one at a time. Initially I didn’t do any running at all, I started walking. After work each day, I walked (in barefoot shoes) the 5k route around the perimeter of Clapham Common – which is my initial goal to be able to run. I did this for ten days. Then, while continuing to walk this 5k each day, I started running. My initial run is a small offshoot of the Common called Westside. It’s about 1 mile around. I ran this mile once, then didn’t run again for seven days. Each day I still did the 5k walk.

Then after seven days I ran again, the same mile route, while still walking the 5k every day. Six days later I ran the mile again, five days after that I ran again, four days later I ran again… you get the idea. I decreased the rest days from running by a day each time, so that within 4 or so weeks, I was up to running a mile every other day. Once I reached this stage I stopped doing the walk. This wasn’t by design, I just feel out of the habit. I had planned on doing these walks barefoot once the weather go warmer. I still think this is probably good preparation for longer runs, but we’ll see.

So I’m currently running every other day for a mile. The idea is that little and often will produce a faster and more consistent response from my body in terms of toughening up my feet, the soles and the musculoskeletal bit. I believe that trying to up the distance but only running twice a week is not enough to get a proper response from your body for change. My plan is to increase to doing this mile everyday. I’ll try and take another month to get up to this frequency. Once there I can experiment with increasing the distance on only one run a week, and up that upped frequency in the exactly the same way I introduced the initial run in the first place. This is the slowest conditioning I’ve ever tried, so I really hope I complete it, injury free. We shall see how long it takes to move all this up to a complete circuit of Clapham Common everyday.

Performance Paradox

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I’m constantly asked, “if it’s so good, why don’t I see professional athletes running barefoot”.

It’s easy to assume that what professionals do in competition is what we should also do. However we never see these professionals in training, and for most runners, that is effectively all they do – train. So we really should take our cue from what the top athletes do in training and not be sidetracked by what they do on the track.

The original running shoes – racing flats – have spikes under the ball of the foot, and modern cushioned running shoes have rubber soles. Both these allow for increased friction between you and the ground. In turn allowing greater acceleration than bare feet alone. Therefore even the most ardent barefoot runner, will gain competitive advantage being shod in competition.

This advantage is more pronounced in shorter races. Short races involve sudden bursts of acceleration and sometimes quick direction changes, which the extra grip helps with.

The advantage diminishes in longer races. In long races it’s all about endurance; acceleration doesn’t come into it. If anything, the barefoot runner now has the advantage. Their running gait (even shod) is impact-free, unlike the constant pounding the shod runner experiences – 5,000 impacts an hour.

However, this is where we have the paradox. For a runner who trains barefoot and only wears shoes in competition, they will have the advantage over the always-shod runner. The barefoot runner’s feet are stronger and able to withstand more. Even in shoes the barefoot runner still runs in a barefoot style, taking full advantage of the more efficient bio-mechanics involved.

As a runner myself, I’m actually not interested in entering any competitions. Not 5k, 10k, half marathons, etc. I used to think I was interested in those events, but that was only because others did it and I felt the need to follow the crowd. It was what you did, wasn’t it? Well, no, that’s not what I do now. I run for my own fitness and pleasure; nothing else. So the idea of worrying about my times, personal bests, etc., is laughable to me now. Who the hell cares how long it takes me to run a certain distance? I don’t. I can still record this to monitor my progress, but I couldn’t care less if my time would be faster in shoes.

The paradox of increased short-term performance, at the expense of your overall long-term performance and foot health is an interesting concept,. One that tends to overshadow the benefits of running without shoes.