Join the Running Dog Cult

I should have titled that last post “Meet Pat, the Cause of INEXPLICABLY LINGERING PAIN FROM Running Injuries THAT ACTUALLY HEALED A LONG TIME AGO; but that’s too long and less likely to have hooked you in to reading the post. I wish I could say I wrote that title intentionally, but the truth is it was just lazy writing. When I write a post, I’ll create a title to sort of get me going, then go back and change it to better suit what I wrote. I just forgot to go back and change it. For instance, right now the title of this post is JOIN MY RUNNING CULT AND NEVER GET HURT AGAIN.* Will it stick? Probably. I kind of like it, and it has income-earning potential.

Anyway, this is the post where I’ll tell you, in my great and unattainable wisdom, how to avoid running injuries. Here we go.

So you want to be a writer. What’s the advice? Write EVERY DAY. So you want to be an artist. Art EVERY DAY. So you want to be a tuba player. Tuba EVERY wait, really? Huh, okay, well, tuba EVERY DAY (just find a practice room. Don’t do it in a small two-bedroom apartment in Queens when the landlord lives downstairs and your roommates have ears. Thanks!). So you want to be a runner. Run every once in a while, but not too much, because all that pounding isn’t good for you. In fact, do a bunch of other exercises so you can avoid running as much as possible, and therefore be able to run a little bit without falling apart. If you’re training for a marathon, don’t build a base or anything, just start running twenty-milers once a week and then spend the other six days never fully recovering and just feeling awful. So you want healthy gums. Floss EVERY DAY.

In case you don’t see what I’m getting at, let’s try a mental exercise. So you want to be a fish. What would you do to start this impossible transformation? Even though you’ll never grow gills and scales and eyes on the side of your head, you certainly could take steps (“steps” because you have feet, not fins, you weirdo fish-wannabe) to become more fish-like. For starters, you should swim EVERY DAY. Let’s face it, that’s as far as you’re going to get in your fishy quest. However, swimming every day isn’t impossible, at least for most people. Even if you’re not a very good swimmer, you would start off little by little, some days swimming more, some days swimming less. All you need is access to a lot of water.

If this sounds possible to you, even if like me you have no desire to be a fish, how possible is it do you think it is to become a running ape? Oh wait – THAT’S WHAT YOU ALREADY ARE! If you want to awaken your dormant running apeness, make like a fish and RUN EVERY DAY.

I’m not saying you need to put on your skimpy running shorts, get all garmin’d up, and put forth an effort worthy of a DailyMile post. Run for the reason that fish swim. Why do fish swim? This isn’t a deep question here. Fine I’ll tell you: to get over there.

This fish thing is too much of a stretch, isn’t it? You’re right. Let’s consult a different animal, one that’s more mammal: my running coach, the Sun Beast.

Run like a dog.

The Sun Beast.

The Sun Beast isn’t trying to run. She isn’t thinking about form. She isn’t doing it for her health. She certainly isn’t concerned about Pat. (Morgan Freeman Voiceover) She is running to get over there, quickly. (/Morgan Freeman Voiceover)

Do you at times need to get over there, quickly? Or simply get over there? Trot on over. Don’t saunter, don’t lolligag. What would the Sun Beast do? Trot. Make running a part of your transportation life, not just fitness. If running is constantly reinforced on a daily basis to be a utilitarian mode of transportation, Pat will learn her/his place and not be an overbearing neurotic killjoy. In fact, a chill Pat is a good teammate, slapping you upside the head when you push it too hard but doesn’t overreact by chopping off your legs like some kind of Stephen King novel.

Okay, that’s easy enough. Now we’re all running around like a wild pack of family dogs,

… what about training for a marathon, because you can’t be a REAL runner if you’re not training for a marathon, right? I say run whatever and however far you want, but here’s the rule for marathons: training doesn’t start until you run six hours a week, every week, for at least six months. WHAT?!? Yup, that’s right. Suck it up, buttercup. Running takes patience, and there’s a whole lot of unlearning for you to unlearn and becoming to become. With our modern life we’ve been a fish out of water for most of our lives, and you know what happens when you throw a fish that’s been out of water for most of it’s life back into the sea: it sinks, because it’s dead. Because it can’t breathe our air. What I’m trying to say is it takes time to make the transition from modern man to ape man, and to run the marathon distance well and minimize the risk of hurting yourself you need to have Pat on board.

Oh, and about that six hours a week: no run should be more than 25% of the total weekly time. Meaning, no run longer than an hour and a half. Also, four of those runs a week should be no more than an hour. Here’s a tip: it’s MUCH easier to get that running time in if you run every day. Of course, if you do the math, you’re running no less than six days a week. Sound like too much work? Then you should reconsider your desire to run marathons, unless feeling destroyed afterwards and risking injury is part of the fun for you.

As far as training goes, let’s be generous: no run longer than 33.3% of your total weekly time. That means if you want to run a twenty-mile long run, you’re looking at no less than sixty-mile week.

By the way, these aren’t my equations. This is classic Arthur Lydiard stuff. You know, the guy who coached during the era when the average marathon time was close to three-hours and runners got injured a fraction of the time as they do now.

In summation, here are the three rules of the Dog Running Cult:
1. Run like a dog: less distance, greater frequency, more spontaneity. This will get Pat used to the idea of running being no big thing, just part of the day and a part of what you are.
2. Do not cross-train. EVER! Sure, go swimming, ride a bike, throw weight around, whatever you want, just don’t call it cross-training. Do it for fun or because you’re shallow and like to look at yourself in the mirror. If you call it cross-training, that tells Pat that running is dangerous.
3. Less shoe, more you. Hey, this is still a barefoot blog. What do you think a “protective” shoe tells Pat? Running is dangerous! Much better to go barefoot, develop a friendly relationship with the ground, and show pat how not-dangerous running is.

For those of you currently dealing with either Pat or a real injury, I’m afraid I have no answers. Maybe my experience with a BRIEF prescription of NSAIDS would work for you, but I’m not one to tell people what to put in (or not to put in) their bodies, especially when it comes to drugs. I mean, I love beer and think it’s a great post-race recovery beverage, but I don’t feel like I’m qualified to recommend one of the most potentially addictive and destructive substances out there to anyone. So that’s on you. All I can say is be gentle with yourself (physically and emotionally), and when you’re feeling better start running like a dog.

*As you see, I’ve changed the title a bit to deflect the responsibility of my advice from me and on to the canine species. I can’t afford any lawsuits.

The Tyranny of Rest Days

Mr Lydiard, when should I take rest days?
Lydiard: Never.

I’m not running this morning. It’s not because I’m tired; if anything it’s to give my dog Sunny a break. She’s been running with me all week, and the distance I’d like to run today is a bit much for her at this time. I can’t leave the house in the early pre-dawn for a run by myself, otherwise she’ll wake up the whole house by poking them with her nose. Instead, I’ll be running nine-to-twelve miles this afternoon after work. Not too fast, but a little faster than an easy frotz-about trot.

Today will be my thirty-third day of running in a row, averaging over six-and-a-half miles a day. I feel good. I’ve cut down on the speedwork to a very fun fartlek on Wednesdays and a long tempo on Saturdays (when I’m not fun-racing). Not once have I woken up and felt unprepared to run. Every step is welcome, unaccompanied by an “ugh.”

To learn how to run barefoot and enjoy it, you don’t just take off your shoes and PRESTO CHANGO you’re transformed. The education comes from trying to first figure out how to do it without pain (gently! relax! patience! reflection!) and injury. By removing the protection of the shoe, your running choices need to change in order to accomodate that new environment. If you learn to run so gently that the hard ground feels welcoming to the feet, you’re running gently indeed!

What does this have to do with running every day? I wonder if rest days are like shoes. That is, it’s self-destructive to run in a way that requires them. The answer to the question, “what if you ran so gently that you didn’t require shoes?” might be the same as “what if you ran so gently that you didn’t require rest days?”

Of course, life is tough and sometimes there’s no room to fit in a run. That’s not the kind of “rest” day I’m talking about, and my streak might end when we have to travel to and from our future home in the Olympic Mountains this June. Or it might not. The point is, I’m running each day with the mindset that I’m going to run again the next day, and the day after that. Sure, sometimes I will do too much, or give my all in a race, and a rest day will be needed. Or maybe life’s struggles will demand a day off. If I’m sick, yes, absolutely, I’ll take a few days off. Resting due to circumstances is not what I’m talking about, though. It’s the required one-two-three days off every week in 99% of the training plans out there that I suspect might actually be counter-productive. If you need regular days off each week, why?

Just as a shoe allows you to do more than you should, maybe rest days do too. If we know we have a rest day coming up, do we push harder? Run farther? Let me ask the same question from the other direction: if you were forced to run at least a couple of miles every day, would your running habits change? I think they would, and maybe that change would be for the better.

In the end, I think this comes down to how you think about running. If you think of running as punishment, as something you do to deserve that second piece of cake, then running everyday will seem masochistic. If instead running is who you are, it’s what you do, a part of your existence on this speck of dust in the universe, maybe running should be put in the same category as eating, sleeping, smiling, and breathing: something to be done in the right amounts every day.

Barefoot Seminar Cheat Sheet

What you are about to read, should you go beyond this paragraph, are the notes for the barefoot running seminar I am conducting/conducted (depending on when you’re reading this) on Saturday, March 9, 2013 at RunnerDude’s Fitness. These are notes, so the ideas are disjointed and lack my usual smooth comprehensibility that I’m renowned for. To get a better idea of the presentation, add a bunch of “umms” and “uhhhs” and “you knows.”

Hello, I’m Josh and I like to run barefoot, provided the weather and terrain are decent enough. When I do wear shoes I think the more minimal the better.

I believe that anyone can run the way that I do, but concede there’s a possibility I’m “special.” If there was something special about me that allowed me to run barefoot enjoyably, how would I know?

There’s one thing about me I think it is important for you to understand: I am not a tough guy. Sure, I have moments of toughness like everybody, especially people in the running community, but in general I am strongly averse to pain and discomfort. If running barefoot hurt, I wouldn’t do it.

At any rate, tonight I’d like to share with you the running perspective my bare feet have given me, with the hopes that you might all decide to throw out your shoes and start living your life barefoot. Failing that, I’d be thrilled if tonight you learn a few things that can be applied to your running life with happy results. Failing that, I hope to entertain. So let’s get started.

How do I run barefoot without hurting my feet? Like this: (run in place). There you go, now you know how I run barefoot. I suppose that answer is unsatisfying, and I notice we still have about 55 minutes left of the presentation. I could try to go into the whole physiology of it, but at best all I’d be doing is rehashing information that can be found on youtube presented by people who actually know what they’re talking about and have like, an education and stuff:
Mark Cucuzzella:

Lee Saxby:

Some naked-faced weirdo:

Instead of going into detail about biomechanics I’m not qualified to talk about, I’ll be presenting what I think is more important to understand first: the barefoot perspective, as opposed to the shoe perspective.

When I say “barefoot,” I mean BAREfoot. Unfortunately, “barefoot running” has become a means of marketing minimalist shoes, counterproductively reinforcing the shoe perspective. I don’t think there’s anything devious going on, we’ve just gotten ourselves in a perspective rut.

The shoe perspective, which is really more than about shoes, is this: in order to run well and injury-free, we need outside forces to change us. We need shoes to correct our deficiencies and inefficiencies. We’re passengers in our shoes.

As a result, many runners buy “barefoot” shoes and expect the changes to happen to them. Of course they do! Putting on a pair of shoes and expecting a presto-chango transformation is how shoes have been sold for decades! In reality, your body requires TIME to adapt, even if the shoe were to deliver on a promise of instant perfect form.

Think about the changes in the biomechanics from running in a traditional shoe to a minimal shoe in “good form”: forefoot landings can fracture weak metatarsals, no heel cushioning can tear up tight calves and snap Achilles. It’s like trying to do a bunch of pushups after your arms have been in casts for your entire life.

Since it’s unlikely a runner will instantly understand and perform good running technique, we must also allow for time to figure out how to do it right in the first place, because a shoe isn’t going to fix your form (a la the shoe perspective). Old habits die hard, and running AS IF you had cushioning when you have none is destructive.

It’s difficult to understand how to run barefoot from a coach. First, assuming the coach runs barefoot, the coach has to accurately understand what they’re doing. That’s hard, because our understanding is clouded by all of our preconceived notions and assumptions. Then, the coach has to adequately explain what it is they’re doing. THEN, the student has to understand what the coach is explaining, which is hard because the student has a whole bunch of preconceived notions and assumptions. AND THEN, there’s still no guarantee the student will accurately put into practice what they understand (how many of us have seen video of our running and were shocked?).

Instead, the barefoot perspective starts at the beginning. You have your feet, and any addition must have a practical application AND be applied with an understanding that the tool comes at a cost.

How much does a shoe cost? Not just $$$. What are the compromises you make when you choose to put on a shoe?
What does a shoe do?
It retains heat, dulls the sensation of the ground, and if there’s a heel, alters posture.

Do shoes make you a better runner? How does making your feet hotter, heavier, immobile, squished, and desensitized help you run? Maybe the temps are cold enough or the terrain pointy enough to outweigh these costs. If so, it’s important to have a good understanding of what the trade-offs are.

If you stomp on a rock and it hurts, the shoe perspective is to add cushioning: the rock hurt me.

The barefoot perspective is to not stomp on the rock next time: I hurt me.

The shoe perspective seeks the perfect shoe. The barefoot perspective seeks to CREATE the perfect self.

Learning to run barefoot requires a commitment to a sense of personal responsibility, a belief that you’re in control of your experience.
Instead of shielding yourself from the slings and arrows the road is heir to, a barefoot runner learns to move gently, so the slings and arrows don’t hurt.

How? pushups! (Demonstrate mad pushup skillz)
Think of your feet as hands, imagine they have similar utility.
Feet are hands that specialize in catching your weight.

If you take off your shoes, start running, and stop before it hurts, you’ll never do too much too soon. If you think of any pain as something you are causing with the way you move, that will disappear if you run gently enough, you will slowly and gradually learn how to run better.

If, however, you remain committed to the shoe perspective and expect the changes to happen to you, that you’re a passenger in your shoes, running without protection will likely cause a lot of hardship, pain, and injury.

I got to where I am in my running life by being committed to the belief that if I run gently enough, I can run anywhere without shoes. I’m not there yet, and probably never will be. But as a result of this pursuit, I can run as far and as fast as my legs can carry me without shoes if the surface is smooth enough. As time goes on and I continue to practice with the mindset that I always have more to learn, more and more surfaces are smooth enough.

(Everyone participate in 100-up exercises)

Possible discussion topics:
My personal BF history
My current training regimen and race goals
Why BF studies are generally bunk
How to change form if BF isn’t an option
BF hygiene and safety (Needles! Poo!)
Cultural reactions