Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Time for a Beginner Runner Clinic?

I'm a member of TCSD, the Triathlon Club of San Diego, which is one of the most amazing organizations of any type I've ever been a member of in my entire life, and that includes not only all other sport-related clubs, but also social service organizations and even churches.  This club, with nearly 3000 members, provides an exceptionally high number of FREE club races, clinics, and seminars, and this is all done with an annual dues of only $60.  To top it off, this large club has no paid staff: It is entirely run by volunteers.

TCSD is really all about beginners.  Sure, we love our elites, and cheer them on to higher podium spots.  And we love the bulk of our members, who race for the sheer joy of it.  But we go a bit crazy for our beginners.

Here's an example:  After each of our free electronically-timed club races, we have a short awards presentation.  First come the top three women and men, and we all cheer.  Then the volunteers are thanked, and we cheer a bit louder (because they bring the food).  Then the Race Director asks: "Who just did their first-ever triathlon?"  And when a few hands are shyly raised, the loudest cheering of the morning thunders out, generally shocking the poor newbies.  I remember when this happened to me:  It is one of my most treasured memories.

TCSD offers many clinics and seminars aimed squarely at beginners.  Don't know what a triathlon is?  Attend the "Tri-101" clinic.  Want to learn more about club and sponsor resources?  Attend the "Intro to Triathlon" clinic.  Uncomfortable on a bike?  Attend the "Biking Beginner's Clinic".  Can't swim at all, or have issues with wetsuits or swimming in open water?  Attend the "Beginners Open-Water Swim" clinic.

But if you have problems running, TCSD doesn't offer a beginner's running clinic. Sure, we have some truly excellent running clinics, but they're aimed primarily at building strength and speed, and don't emphasize identifying and resolving pain, discomfort, equipment or stride issues.  I suspect this is simply because running is a more "natural" activity than either swimming or biking, and not many people really know all that much about starting from the beginning.

I'm thinking this situation should change, and despite my not being any kind of running expert or coach, I think I should be the one to start the change.  I'd like to share my current vision with you, then I'll invite your comments to adjust what needs adjusting.

Here's my pitch:

Now that I'm recovering from my broken foot, I've been thinking about what I've learned about changing strides, changing equipment, and changing training, and how I have become able to run pain-free despite some major negative factors.

I'd like to put together a "Broken and (Re)Beginner Running Clinic" focused on getting people who have problems running at all to run comfortably.  Neither speed nor long distance are goals for the participants: Running injury-free with comfort is the only goal.

My intended audience will be the weak, often-injured, awkward or uncoordinated, aged and obese, who either can't run at all, or for whom running is greatly limited due to discomfort.  I will insist they not only sign a TCSD waiver (and be a member), but also get clearance from their MD if there is any question at all about their suitability for light running (especially those recovering from injuries).

My approach will employ 'talks', 'demos' and 'workouts', AKA "Hear it, See it, Do it", the intent being to employ all learning modalities.

The first priority will be to build basic physical self-awareness (balance, agility, proprioception, exertion, fatigue) along with basic leg and core strength.  Each participant will become aware of the ranges of motion needed for running, the care and feeding of the muscles used to achieve that motion, and the nerve/reflex integration needed to make it all work together smoothly.  At the start, no running will be done, and fast walking will be used to build motion awareness.

Next will come discussions about running gaits, with particular attention paid to the various foot strikes (heel, midsole, and forefoot), with demonstrations of all running styles, including run-walk-run.  Each participant will get to try each stride for themselves at a jogging pace, to see how their body reacts.  The physical demands of each stride type will also be discussed.

After this will come discussions of equipment, shoes and socks, and how they affect running.  Particular attention will be paid to the idea of having different shoes for different kinds of activity (training, racing, trails, walking), how to shop for shoes, and how to research shoes.

The next phase will be all about practicing, with both self-monitoring and monitoring by each other.  The goal will not be to build speed, but to build skill and comfort up to a sprint triathlon run distance of 5 km (3 miles).

By the end of the clinic, each participant should be able to run and train on their own, and also be ready to take full advantage of other TCSD running clinics.

I do not currently possess all the knowledge needed to do this alone.  I will invite trainers, coaches, physical therapists, athletes, shoe retailers/reps and a Sports MD to review the curriculum, monitor the process, and give talks.  My next step will be to recruit this support.

The other issue is time (duration and schedule).  I believe each participant will need a minimum of 10 hours of contact time.  Since many will be unable to attend all sessions, I'd like to plan to hold at least 12 sessions, with each session starting with a review of the prior session.  To get all this in before the triathlon season is too far along, I'd like to schedule two sessions per week, perhaps one on a weekday, and one on the weekend.  Perhaps 90-minute sessions at the start (more talk), with 60-minute sessions later on (more practice).

What do you think?  What's missing?  Who should I get to help?

Friday, January 14, 2011

I'm Famous!

I was featured in a story on KPBS radio today!

Unfortunately, the report was barely 5 minutes long, so it won't qualify as my 15 minutes of fame.  :-(

Update: 4:30 PM:
The story is part of the PM commute loop, so maybe it will add up to 15 minutes!

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Adidas Chill M: My Ideal Shoe?

 Those who read my shoe rant in this post or on RunBlogger know all about my frustration finding shoes that both fit my narrow flat foot and suit my forefoot stride.  To summarize: What I'm looking for is a racing flat upper with a padded sole.

While visiting family back East over Christmas, I did some post-Holiday sale shopping at a nearby outlet mall which had an Adidas store filled with obsolete product for half-off.  My eye was immediately drawn to the all-black upper and the light blue sole of the Adidas Chill M.

The upper is as about minimalist as you can get.

If you look at the current version of this shoe, the unadorned simplicity shown above is no longer available.

The heel logo doesn't use reflective paint.
This shoe has moderate heel-to-toe drop I would estimate to be about 4mm, which falls near the top of the range I want my ideal shoe to have.

The super-flexible (and colorful) sole.
When I picked up the shoe, two features were readily apparent: Light weight and a flexible sole.

The shoe is very light (246 g / 8.6 oz with factory insole and laces), which compares well with my Saucony Kilkenny XC3 racing flats (188 g / 6.6 oz), and is far better than my Asics Gel-Equation 3 (360 g / 12.6 oz) and Mizuno Wave Creation 10 (460 g / 16.2 oz with green Superfeet insole).

The sole is extremely flexible, surprisingly so.  It is far more flexible than any other shoe I own, including my racing flats and even my Vibram Fivefingers Bikila!  This shoe is almost as flexible as a pair of heavy socks.

The upper is made of CLIMACOOL fabric, which according to Adidas provides improved foot cooling.  The upper is constructed using as little of this fabric as possible, much like racing flats.  And like racing flats, the thin tongue can easily fold along its length, though this will be a problem only when socks are not worn.

Trying on the shoes revealed two more surprises:  The sizing runs both narrow (again like racing flats) and a bit short.  If you are between sizes, you'll want to go a half-size larger, otherwise go up a full size.  To my narrow flat foot, this shoe felt like a perfect fit.

I did a few 5-stride sprints in the store, and the thick sole felt very stable, firm without being too hard.  In particular, this sole had none of the "squishy" feel I felt with the Brooks Green Silence.

This afternoon I took the shoes for their first run, two miles over a wet paved trail with rolling hills.  Traction was excellent, the shoes had no hot-spots (I wore bike socks), and the mid-sole provided the cushioning I need to prevent future stress fractures.

I think I may have found my 'ideal' training shoe!  I'll update this post after I've resumed doing longer distances.

Update, 09Jan2011:
The more running I do in these shoes, the more I like them!  Though I only have 10 miles on them (I'm still building back from my stress fracture), they have already proven themselves to be the most comfortable shoes I own.

Another characteristic of these shoes is their total lack of rigidity and structure:  You can easily bend and twist them any way you like, all the way to the heel.  They're even slightly more flexible than my racing flats!  (This is due to the flats containing a thin plastic plate to protect against sharp things.)

With my very narrow and extremely flat feet, not to mention my over-pronation, weak ankles, slightly bowed legs, and history of PF, ITB and knee issues, I never thought I'd ever be able to run so comfortably in such a light shoe with so little structure.  If I ever get to give a speech before the Academy (of Running Arts and Sciences), I'll give all the credit to forefoot running!  That, and increasing my cadence above 90 (which may prove equally important).

For only a 2 ounce weight difference, I'm thinking of retiring my racing flats.  We'll see how I feel about it when I start to prepare for a race.

Update, 25Jan2011:
I have a habit of naming my favorite pieces of gear.  My prior bike, a Trek Madone, was my "Carbon Princess".  My Garmin Forerunner 305 is my "Training Brain".

My Addidas Chill M shoes are now my "Running Slippers".  They are literally the most comfortable footwear I own.  I bought a second pair, just to be sure I'll never be without them.  The minute anyone says the word 'shoe' near me, I immediately start to rave about my Running Slippers.  I think I'll trademark that term and sell it to Addidas.

Seriously:  I trust these shoes more and more with each mile I run.  One particular advantage is seen when running up a steep hill:  With all my other running shoes (including my racing flats), the tip of the toe of the shoe would contact the ground before the ball of the foot, due largely to the stiffness and springiness of the sole plate.  This changes the timing of my stride, in that I'm not really sure when I'm making contact.

With the Addidas Chill M, I am able to lift my toe, which in this extraordinarily flexible shoe means I'm also lifting the toe of the shoe, meaning my forefoot hits the ground simultaneously, just as it does when running on level ground.  This makes my uphill stride more predictable, more powerful, and much less subject to tripping or stumbling.  Basically, I trust my stride more, and have less fear of making a misstep.

Another key change for me is running downhill:  I used to go slow downhill due to a combination of impact sensitivity and foot discomfort.  The impact sensitivity is due to my heel hitting the ground a bit harder, which causes pain at the site of my degenerated L5-S1 disc.  The foot discomfort is due to my toes being jammed into the front of the shoe.  I'm now have the confidence to crank up my cadence and increase my downhill speed.  The increased cadence reduces my heel impact, and the great fit of the Addidas Chill M upper keeps my foot in place.

The fact that I'm still rebuilding from my stress fracture is most evident when I'm running on level ground.  My legs want to go fast, but they don't yet have the conditioning to go fast for very long.  So I back off a bit to flush my legs, only to find my cardio isn't up to it either.  So I back off a bit more to recover, then speed up again to reach my cardio threshold.  This means my speed on level ground varies between a 7 minute pace and a 10:30 pace.

In my prior shoes, it felt like the dynamics of the shoe affected how I ran at each speed, making transitions feel a bit awkward.  With the Addidas Chill M, it feels like I'm using the same stride at all speeds.  This could also be due simply to the lighter weight of the shoe (second only to my racing flats), and may also be due to my becoming more comfortable as a forefoot runner at all speeds.  But I'm doing it in my Chill M's, and I like it!

I'm also thinking I like the 4mm heel-to-toe drop of the Addidas Chill M sole:  When my heel does occasionally strike a bit too hard, the extra padding does a good job of cushioning the impact.  It also makes the shoes very comfortable to walk around in, which was never the case with my racing flats.

I like my "Running Slippers"!