Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Triathlete’s Guide to Barefoot Running

Barefoot running is a hotly debated, and very vogue thing to be doing as a runner.  Popular though it may be, it can easily be misunderstood by Triathletes working to maximize gains in three sports all at once.   Hopefully this guide will serve as an overview into the world of running unshod and/or less shod than most. 
So, who are these barefoot runners?
The barefoot community is…um…eclectic at best.  The gurus of the barefoot world are typically wizened old runners that have been running unshod for a long time.  Luckily, they’re easy to identify because they put barefoot in front of their name.  Why?  I dunno.  Ask them.  The Yoda of the barefoot world is Barefoot Ken BobArguably the most popular barefooter however, would be Barefoot Ted.  Barefoot Ted was introduced to the world by the book “Born To Run” by Christoper McDougall, a converted barefooter himself.  (Which is a must read by the way)

So they run without shoes?
Sort of…  There are a few different types of barefoot runner.  I’ll try to explain.
Zen BarefooterThese are the hardcore folks in the barefoot world.  They run without shoes, as often as possible, on just about every surface.  They rarely wear any type of shoe, and only do it when conditions require it.  In other words, barefoot is their default.  They just dig it, they like the connection with their environment, and the feeling of running barefoot.
The Mostly Barefooter:  This is where most people in the barefoot world live.  They do some or all of their weekly miles in huaraches (sandals for running), vibram five fingers, or some other type of footwear that is made to protect your feet from the ground while still allowing you to feel barefoot.  They may still do some running completely barefoot. 
The Minimalist:  Not actually a barefooter per se, but a very close cousin.  The minimalist runs in very light trainers or racing flats with minimal heel drop and no medial posting. 
Ok, so there are various types of nuts and hippies that run without shoes, why should a Triathlete care?
Good question, glad you asked.  You did ask, right? 
The answer is luckily an easy one.  Doing some barefoot work will very likely help you become a better runner than you are now.  Here is how I see it:
Run Velocity = Aerobic Efficiency + Biomechanical Efficiency
If you want better running performance (and who doesn’t…) you need to increase one of those two variables. 
Bio-mechanical Efficiency:  (AKA Running Economy) This is your body’s ability to convert energy into velocity by way of your muscles.  Barefoot running provides immediate biofeedback on your bio-mechanics.  Pain is a wonderful teacher.  Make no mistake, you can make great strides as a runner (pun totally intended) by embracing one of the great running techniques out there, like chi, pose, or evolution running.  However, there are nuances to running in good form that you can learn from barefoot running faster or more completely in my opinion. 
Aerobic Efficiency:  I’m referring here to a combination of Lactate Threshold and VO2max.   As a triathlete you’re probably all too familiar with these terms so I’m going to lump them together into one generic term I call “Aerobic Efficiency.”  If bio-mechanical efficiency refers to the ability to convert energy into velocity, then aerobic efficiency refers to your body's ability to convert glycogen, fat, and oxygen into energy.  I imagine you’re probably asking yourself “how on earth can running without shoes help me convert more fat and oxygen into energy?”  In order to run fast you need to, at the most basic level, run a lot.  Sometimes that will be fast running, sometimes very fast, sometimes slow, and sometimes long; but it’s all running.  All that running simply adds up to lots of miles on your feet.  How do you rack up the miles?  You train.  But here’s the catch.  You can’t train if you’re injured.  How do you prevent injury?  Good running technique.
The pose/chi/evolution/barefoot movements provides a lot of (somewhat subjective, n=1 type) evidence that bio-mechanically efficient runners spend less time hurt and more time training.  A few academics and coaches are beginning to do research to confirm this.  In the process, that improvement in bio-mechanics will get you some free speed in becoming more efficient. 
My Personal Experience
I’ve been in the “minimalist” camp since last December, and I joined the “mostly barefoot” crowd after my A race this year.  Since then, I’ve seen a huge increase in run speed, but as I had already been big into minimalism, not so much of a reduction in overuses injuries.  Overall though, I’m a lot better runner than I’ve ever been.  I’m still making huge performance leaps.  Most importantly, I enjoy running now.
Is it worth it?  Yeah.  Is it a lot of work?  Yes, certainly. 
How To Run Barefoot
I’d be remiss to not talk about this briefly, but there isn’t really a need for me to go into this.  This topic has been done a lot, and it has been done by people much more qualified than I am.  I won’t bother telling you to make the transition slowly…and I won’t tell you to listen to your body…and I won’t…oh…wait…  So, if you want to give it a shot, go over to Google and read up.  Check out and

Keep Running…

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Next Step

I just read an old post from December 2008 that was talking about a 5k I ran 12:37/mi in. Looking back, I can hardly remember being that person…but that was me. I remember when I considered exercise the biggest challenge of my day, and now most days it’s the safe place I can escape and be with my thoughts. 

Last September I changed my blog from “Escape from the Cube” to “My Road to Ironman” and announced my intention to participate in IM 70.3 Steelhead, and eventually a full distance Ironman race.

This September I’m happy to announce that on September 11, 2011 I’ll be participating in Ironman Wisconsin! 

It’s been a long time getting here, and the road ahead is still very long, but now there is a date and time. Ironman, here I come…

Fighting Illini Triathlon 2010 1:13:48.7

This is my second “Fighting Illini” triathlon. The first happened in May of 09 and was called “Tri-The-Illini.” The course changed slightly, with the run between the pool and T1 signficantly increasing and the addition of about 2 miles on the bike. My 2009 times are denoted in parenthesis because it’s kind of fun to see the improvement a year can bring.

This was also my last triathlon of the 2010 season, which is both a little happy and a little sad. I like to race, that’s for sure…but my body and mind are both ready for the break that a reduction in volume will bring post season. It was rainy, my legs were still trashed from my long run two days before, and overall I was kind of “meh.” Of course I still have a marathon to run before I can call it “off season” officially. Anyway, here is the race report.

AG 2/14 (17/25)
Overall 47/332 (153/301)

Swim 300m
Rank 5 (18)
Time 6:07.6 (7:26.95)
Rate 2:02/100m (2:48/100m)

I forgot my goggles at home…Oops. Luckily I was able to buy some at the U of I ARC. They were not my awesome Aqua Sphere Kayennes, and immediately leaked, but they were better than nothing.

I really suck at those indoor pool snake swims where you have to swim under a lane line. I blow it and lose time at the wall every time. In other news, I saw a purple Tri-Shark jersey in the lane as I was passing and didn’t want to impede a team mates swim, so I swam right on top of this poor college girl (sorry, and welcome to triathlon…).

Rank 2 (10)
Time 2:27.9

It was a LONG run into T1, but I really rocked it. My secret weapon was all the barefoot running I’ve been doing. Run an 1/8 of a mile barefoot on asphalt? Sure…I do 4 miles barefoot on asphalt all the time. Zoom!

Rank (2) 6
Time 40:06.5
Speed 21.6 mph

I was pushing hard on the bike, but there were a lot of turns and the course was wet. I’m a little skittish turning still after the accidents, so I took things slow and lost some speed. Also, there was a ton of slow traffic on the course. College kids rocking out the swim crazy fast and then jumping on their Huffy Mt. Bikes. Overall, I’m a little disappointed in my late season bike performance. My NP was only 218 W, and VI was 1.04. I can do better.

Rank 8 (22)
Time 1:31.0

I’m slow in transition. Something I’d work on if my focus was short course, but for now it isn’t. Nothing really interesting here though, I just did my thing.

Rank 4 (24)
Time 23:35.7 (28:33.40)
Pace 7:36/mi (9:13/mi)

I was really happy with my run. I’ve made huge improvements over the last year in running. In this race I went from second to last in my AG to 4
th. Not too bad! Off the bike I was doing about 7:45, and once my legs opened up I was able to really start pushing. I negative split the 5k, finishing my last mile around 7:00/mi and the last .1 at around 6:34/mi.


I’m pretty happy with my overall performance. I felt my bike was weak, but my run was pretty strong and my swim was much improved. It was a great way to end the season. Post race was cool. I got to catch up with some friends and fellow Tri-Sharks, I got an awesome beer mug as an award, and I got some great harvest bread(they were a sponsor of the race)…which is like the best bread in the world. I wish I could bake like they do. YUM! 
It was a great way to end the 2010 Tri season.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Great Illini Olympic Triathlon - 2:41:37.1

AG 3/4
Overall 17/55

I was a “racing spectator” at this race. My primary goal for this event was to support Lana. This was her A race. Other than that, I had no real goal other than to have fun and get a good workout in. 
It was a very small and somewhat poorly organized race, which is kind of too bad, I would have liked her first Olympic distance race to be met with more grandeur. We didn’t really know it was as small as it was though.
Anyway, to the race report…

We woke up early and had a PB / Honey sandwich on Great Harvest bread (which is becoming a tradition for us) and some hotel room coffee. Then we set out for the race.

Swim 1500m
Rank 3
Time 30:24.4

The swim was pretty nice. We were in Lake Mattoon, which was as nice of a lake as you could hope for in South/Central IL. There was a little bit (a very little) of chop once we got out into the water, which made things interesting.

Rank 4
Time 2:51.85

I was totally wonked out of my head in T1. I was very dizzy, rapid breathing, and just in general feeling out of my head. Why? Caffeine. Too much of it in fact. Yeah, in the right dose it is ergogenic, but too much is bad. Two Caffein pills are about right for me, but not when combined with my morning coffee. Oops. Lesson Learned.

I saw Lana in T1 and she was looking strong. I cheered as much as I could and kept moving.

Bike 24.8 M
Rank 2
Time 1:12:59.35
Speed 20.4 mph

It was my first race after changing from pedals from SPD-SL to Speedplays, and it took me forever to get clipped in. After I got clipped in and got going things were ok. My NP was right around 220W, which is ok for a 40k tri split. My time was bad though and was caused by a very bad headwind for a lot of the course combined with sitting on the mount line trying to get my pedals to work. Everyone was a bit off though, so that’s ok.

I was a bit surprised to not see Lana on the bike, but I could have just missed her when I had my head down, hard to say.

Rank 3
Time 1:31.80

Just another T2 really…

Run 10K
Rank 3
Time 53:49.7
Pace 8:41/mi

I didn’t really enjoy this run. It was out on country roads that were in bad shape with real big crowns, which are hard on my hips. I set a moderately hard pace and just cruised for the most part. I had no idea how I was doing because I didn’t really see anyone on the run. I was behind the fasties in the Oly, and ahead of the fasties doing the half ironman distance, so it was a bit desolate. 
About 4 miles into the run I saw Emily S and Mark G, who were running the half. Emily was a rock star as always, making the 13 miles look as effortless as a jog on the trail. She would later go on to win 1st overall female. Mark passed me looking strong as well, and let me know that Lana had flatted on the bike course. I said something like “nuts” but it might have sounded more like “&*#$@!” He said she got it changed though, so at least there wasn’t a DNF involved. I can’t believe it. A second flat in 4 triathlons this season. Awful luck.


So, after that I finished the run and got cleaned up / switched in to spectator mode. It was really cool watching Emily S. win. It was a great learning opportunity to hear her talk about the race immediately afterwards. It was also awesome seeing my friend and fellow Tri-Shark Scott R. finish his first HIM strong and healthy (way to go Scott!!!). Mark G.’s continued bike awesomeness never ceases to amaze me as well. It’s very cool to be surrounded by so many great people.

Most importantly though, it was awesome to see all of Lana’s hard work pay off when she reached her goal and completed her first Oly. I saw the daily work that it took to get there. She worked hard and she did very well. Even after changing a flat, she managed to capture 1st in the Athena category. I also ended up with 3rd in my AG.

Post race there wasn’t really much food, other than pizza they quickly ran out of. The trophies were cool, but they were HUGE. I’m still not sure where I’m going to put the thing.

Overall, a great race!