Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fasting for Running?

I recently started doing something that many would consider a bit odd if not down right nuts.  My fiance has called my crazy several times over the past month (more so than usual).  I recently read a post by Jason Robillard on Barefoot Running University (great site if you haven't been there yet) that really intrigued me.  Essentially in his post Jason talks about one of his training methods for the Western States 100.  Training for one of the most difficult and prestigious 100 mile race or any 100 mile race for that matter, can lead to some pretty unorthodox methods. During his training, Jason will not eat a significant amount of calories for a significant amount of time then he would run. The purpose is to run on depleted glycogen stores.  Often it would take runners of Jason's fitness level several hours to hit the "wall" or bonk but while fasting, he will hit the wall after only several miles.  The thought process is that you will become physically and mentally more prepared if and when the "wall" hits during a race. You will then have a better understanding of what hitting the "wall" feels like and some of the warning signs.  It may also lesson the severity of bonking.  Read Jason's post for more detail on his training. He does a much better job of explaining it than I.  I should point out that he has trained like this for other ultramarathons with success.

This made a lot of sense to me and therefore I went in search of fasting on the internet.  I came across a lot of info on fasting.  Fasting is practiced in many religions and in many cultures for various reasons all through out human history.  None of which really intrigued me or concerned me.  This is a running blog after all so I am much more concerned how fasting could help or hurt my running   I ended up coming across intermittent fasting or IF.  I found a website by Mike O'Donnell called The If Life. The IF Life gives some good background knowledge and some ideas on how to start intermittent fasting.  On his site is where I found the IF plan that I do now.  There are three IF "diets" he refers to.  There is the Warrior Diet, Leangains, and the Fast-5 Life.  I could have went with any but Fast-5 has a free e-book to download just for registering for a free account.  I read the book in a day and was fairly impressed.  Basically what Fast-5 calls for is 19 hours of fasting or not ingesting a single calorie and then you have a 5 hour window to eat.  For me this means I usually break my fast at around 4:30pm and won't eat anything after 9:30pm.  I then do the same thing the next day.  At first I found it pretty difficult.  I was the most hungry at times that I usually ate. For me it meant that at 6am and 12pm were the hardest times.  I combat this by drinking a lot of water and black coffee! I would also get very hungry starting around 3pm. However, over the next few days and weeks, the hunger dissipated.  I still get hungry but it is more something that is just there rather than something that bothers me or something that is always on my mind. 

The theory behind intermittent fasting makes sense to me as well. As someone with a Masters in Biology, anything that has roots in evolution I am very curious about (a bit different theory than the one on Jason's post).  Basically the theory behind IF is that for most of human history, we have not had access to an abundance of food.  We often had to go hours and maybe even days with out a significant source of calories.  Whats more is that we probably had to expel a significant amount of energy to gather or hunt those calories.  We couldn't just walk to the fridge and throw something in the microwave.  We couldn't pick up the phone and have pizza delivered to us that would feed an entire family.  We had to actually work, sweat, and yes even run to get our food.  Therefore it is reasonable to believe that our bodies evolved to function in a "fasted" state.  Our bodies may even function more efficiently in a fasted state.

I have actually enjoyed fasting much more than I thought I would and for different reasons than I thought.  I really was only doing it to experiment with my running and trying to become a more efficient runner. However, IF has actually simplified parts of my life. Which for me is always a good thing. Think about all the decisions in your day that are based on food.  For those of us that normally eat plain old cereal for breakfast, we have to decide which size bowl to use, which spoon, which cereal to poor, how much to poor, do you put anything on the cereal, how much milk do you poor, do you eat all of the cereal, do you drink the milk afterward, do you drink OJ and that is just for breakfast. We make most of these decisions with out giving them much thought but other decisions we agonize over. Often after making certain decisions we end up feeling guilty and then torture ourselves for eating the extra piece of pizza, or having and extra dessert or two.  Fasting during the day gets rid of those decisions and the guilt.  The only choice I make all day is not to eat.  I don't worry about what to have for breakfast or what to pack for lunch or if I'm going to order out for lunch.  I was shocked how much relief I got by eliminating these decisions from my life.  I just know that when I get home I get to eat pretty much whatever I want.  Intermittent fasting isn't about starving yourself.  I probably ingest close to the same amount of calories as I normally would.

There are many claims about the health benefits of IF.  These include reducing blood glucose, reducing insulin levels, weight loss, lowering blood pressure, and finally the potential to live longer.  All these benefits sound great and if intermittent fasting produces some of these results than great but as an avid runner I am not really concerned about weight loss or low blood pressure as they should all be taken care of by running 30+ miles a week. 

Now before everyone jumps at me, I too have heard that breakfast is the most important part of the day and that you need to east six meals a day to boost metabolism.  However, stop to consider where this information is coming from.  Then look in your cupboards at all the food we have.  Look at cereal, bagels, bread, oatmeal, fruit juice, milk and everything else we consume just for breakfast.  Then think about who would stand to lose a huge amount of money if we all stopped eating breakfast. Then think about everything we eat for lunch.  Food is constantly being thrown in front of us without us even realizing it.  What if western civilization only ate one large meal a day?  How much money would major food manufacturers, grocery stores, restaurants, fast food chains and countless other lose?  Then think about how much money you would save!  I understand that many people rely on jobs related to the food industry so there is never a simple answer but I believe there may be a healthier option.  Americans in particular just eat way too much food and way too much of the wrong kinds of food.  Maybe eating less often would be a good thing.  Maybe actually knowing what truly being hungry feels like would help us to know when we should eat not just because the clock says we should or because that is when society tells us we should eat.  I'm sure that many that read this blog will be a much more open minded.  As I am sure many of you are either veterinarian, vegan, or follow the paleo diet (would love to do this with my fasting), as these lifestyles seem much more common amongst the running community.  However, this IF is not for everyone and I am not telling you you need to do this but rather think about your eating habits and think about if eating differently could make you a healthier and happier person. 

As far as fasting and running.  I have yet to hit the "wall" while running.  This is probably because I have yet attempted a run over 4 miles in a fasted state but I plan to increase my mileage gradually. I do feel a bit more lethargic running after not eating all day but while I have no way of proving it, I believe that running in as fasted state will improve how efficiently my body can and dose use the energy it has available to it.  I am confident that when I do a longer run or race with full glycogen stores my body will process it in a much more efficient  manner and thus allow me to finish strong.  If it doesn't improve anything than I'm okay with that.  I really enjoy pushing my body to see what it can do.  So far, I have been very impressed with the limits of the human body.

Leave a comment below if you think I'm completely crazy or if you see the logic behind it.  Either way I am curious to hear what you have to say.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Natural Running Store - Where you need to buy your next pair of runnning shoes

Disclaimer:  I do not personally know Patton Gleason(president and founder of Natural Running Store).  He has not asked me to write this post.  I have not been promised compensation for writing this post.  I just genuinely feel compelled to let as many people as possible know about the experience I had after purchasing a single item at Natural Running Store. 

When I first started this blog I had zero intentions of posting about a running store.  I haven't had a shoe purchase experience worth blogging about, until I purchased a pair of Altra Instincts a couple weeks ago.  There are several reasons why I will only purchase my running shoes from the Natural Running Store.  
South East Iowa is anything but the mecca of running culture.  I typically run 5-7 days a week and I can go days without seeing another runner.  As you can imagine, as few runners as there are, there are even fewer specialty running stores.  I only know of one within 50 miles (very limited selection of minimalist shoes at this particular store).  I try to keep my business local but with option so limited I'm forced to turn to the internet for my running shoe purchases.  I have had fairly good luck with purchasing shoes online but there are a few draw backs.  For me the biggest obstacle to purchasing running shoes online is the inability to try shoes on.  This makes sizing difficult.  I usually remedy this buy purchasing several sizes and sending the other sizes back.  Therefore, I only purchase from sites that offer free shipping and free returns which narrows the options down considerably.  Buying shoes online is also a very impersonal.  Usually you get an email saying your order has been processed and hopefully another one saying your shoes have shipped.  That is usually all the contact that is received.  I prefer the personal attention that is often received from brink and mortar specialty running stores.  I like to know that the person I am buying shoes from knows what they are talking about and that they believe in their products.  This kind of attention, hasn't been available online.  However, the Natural Running Store has rectified all of the draw backs of purchasing running shoes online and even surpassed all of my expectations of purchasing shoes online or in person.  

I won't try and tell you who Patton Gleason is and what his beliefs are towards running and life.  He can do a much better job than I could.  He has an exceptional video posted on his store website that does a good job summarizing his beliefs for you. 
From the video and the name of the store you can tell that the only shoes that are available to purchase on his site are shoes that are minimalist or transitional shoes. Therefore, there is not a huge selection of shoes available to purchase but for me this is a positive instead of a negative.  I have a moral issue purchasing minimalist shoes from a place that also offers the typical over built, high heeled, motion control shoes that we are all familiar with.  I understand that selling shoes is a business but I do not believe in compromising ones beliefs to make buck.  If you truly believe in the benefits of minimalist running shoes than I don't see how you can sell a shoe like the Mizuno Wave Prophecy pictured below.  The Natural Running Store does not compromise their beliefs in natural running form and only sell shoes that promote it.  I do not know this for a fact but I would bet that Patton has personally run in every single shoe that he sells and wouldn't sell shoes that he didn't truly belief in.  Therefore I would feel comfortable purchasing any shoe from Natural Running Store. 

Natural Running Store not only sell shoes that promote natural running but they also have videos and tips on how to transition to proper running form. Most running stores just want to sell their shoes and not take the time or effort to show the customers the proper way to run.  Patton as well as I feel this is irresponsible. 

As I mentioned previously, I have an issue with not being able to try shoes on when purchasing them online.  Therefore I buy multiple sizes to make sure I get a correct fit.  I then return the ones that are too big or too small but even then I do not run in these shoes for fear of not getting a refund.  Natural Running Store takes this issue and makes it a complete non issue.  I had to read their return policy  multiple times just to make sure I was reading it correctly.  There are other online shoe stores that  offer free return shipping but no other store that I know will allow you to return the shoes within 30 days in ANY condition. Most stores tell you to wear their shoes on carpet as not to put any wear on the out-soles. Natural Running Store feels that you actually need to run in the shoes to know if they are the shoes for you.  What a crazy concept!  I know some shoe stores that will let you take the shoes for a jog around the block or on their in-store treadmill but 30 days of risk free actual running, that is unbelievable.  I was told in an email from Patton I could run an ultra and if I was not satisfied, I could return them. As far as shipping is concerned, I ordered the Altra Instincts on a Saturday and was not expecting them to be processed or shipped until Monday.  However, they were shipped on Saturday and arrived on Tuesday!  I was shocked by this.  Fastest shipping I have ever experienced.  I'm sure many of you know, that waiting for a new pair of shoes makes you feel like a 7 year old waiting to open presents on Christmas morning.  Fortunately, Patton and Natural Running Store make this as painless as possible.

The final reason I will never buy another running shoe from any other retailer, is the customer service I received.  As I mentioned before, buying shoes online is very impersonal.  Once again I was blown away by Natural Running Store.  Previous to buying shoes from thereI had emailed the Natural Running Store with some sizing questions and got a response back with in an hour or two.  Once I finally made my purchase I got the standard emails that I have become accustomed to, "Thank you for your order", "Your order has now shipped" but then I received an additional email.  I do not know what is "standard" at Natural Running Store but I have a feeling the level of customer service that I received is common.  I also don't want to give away all of Patton's "secrets" but the follow up email I received was anything but impersonal.  When my shoes arrived, in my shoe box was more than just a pair of shoes.  I received a couple very nice "extras".  I would like to think that my order was special but I'm nearly certain every customer gets this level of service.  This was the first purchase of any kind where I was actually more impressed with the customer service than the actual product and the product was fantastic. 

Pricing at Natural Running Store is on par with other online running store prices but they often offer fantastic discounts.  Currently they are offering 25% off all of their Newton Running shoes.  I have not had the opportunity to run in any Newtons yet but I have only heard great things about them.  This might be my chance to get a great long lasting, shoe at a decent price.   

After receiving my shoes I emailed Patton and told him that if more people ran their business the way that he does, the world would be a better place and I sincerely believe that.  

Cheers to YOU Patton and Natural Running Store.  Keep up the fantastic work! 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Altra Instinct Shoe Review

Warning:  This is not a minimalist shoe (but I still dig them)!

As someone who has recently switched to minimalist shoes, and natural running form.  I have been looking for a shoe that would allow me to keep running long distances but also a shoe that maintains many characteristics that are important to me in a minimalist shoe.  All of the minimalist shoes that I own are zero drop, light weight, have a wide toe box, and are super flexible.  However, they are also have very little cushioning.  This is normally a good thing as less cushioning means more ground feel.  However, running long distances on pavement can put a lot of stress on the muscles, tendons, and bones in your feet.  Transitioning to minimalist foot wear takes a lot of time and patience.  Two things that I am often short on.  I didn't take enough time or patience and ending up with a stress fracture in my left foot after running a half marathon in  Vibram Five Fingers Komodo Sports  (review coming soon).  Therefore, I needed a shoe that would allow me to run long distances while my feet continue to strengthen.  This is where the Altra Instincts come into play. 

The Instinct from Altra Running is in a shoe in a class all to it's own.  It has many of the features of a minimalist shoe with out being minimalist. 

Minimalist Characteristics

First and foremost the Instincts are zero drop.  They are built completely flat from heel to toe.  Having a zero drop shoe makes it extremely easy to maintain a natural running form.  What is great about Altra Running is that they not only make great shoes but they also show you how to run properly in them through their Learn to Run Initiative .  They also provide information on and in the shoe box which is extremely helpful to those who are just learning proper running technique. 
Much wider last and much more foot shaped than the Saucony Kinvara
The Instincts have by far the widest toe box I have ever seen in a shoe.  The shoe looks a bit different because it is actually foot shaped.  What a weird concept!  Because of the shape of the shoe, the Instincts for me, run a half size shorter than my normal running shoe.  The ultra wide toe box gives your toes room to splay completely with out any constraints.  With a wide toe box, comes the possibility that the shoe will feel sloppy. The Instinct locks the foot in place nicely via asymmetrical lacing, Altra's heel claw, and A-Wrap .

Heel Claw
Altra does a nice job of making the shoe customizable with two different insoles.  Altra provides a "support" insole that has a bit more cushioning and small amount of arch support.  They also provide a "strengthening" insole that is completely flat and very thin.  The shoe can also be worn without the insole to provide more room in the shoe with less cushioning and more of a minimalist feel.  The Instinct can be worn sock-less with or without the insoles.  I have not encountered any rubbing or blistering to this point. 

Support insole on left. Alternate lacing method shown

 Altra refers to the outsole as their FootPod outsole. The outsole of the shoe seems to be extremely durable and that seems to be very common amongst minimalist shoes.  I would expect to get at least 500 miles out of this shoe if not many more. 

Less Than Minimalist Characteristics 

Keep in mind that Altra has a true minmalsit shoe set to release later this summer.  The Adam is a shoe that I am very excited to get my hands. The Instinct while having many minimalist characteristics it also shares some characteristics of "regular" trainers.  The Instinct is by no means a heavy shoe.  It comes in right around 9 oz in a size 9.  This is much less than most shoes with comparable amount of cushioning but also weighs more than true minimalist shoes.  However, this is not a deal breaker for me because this shoe will not be a short distance race shoe or a tempo shoe for me.  I don't believe the shoe was designed as an up tempo trainer even though it would perform just fine in fast pace run.

The Instinct also has more cushioning than your typical minimalist shoe.  The negative of this amount of cushioning is that there is very little ground feel.  Ground feel is important to make sure that when running you do not land too hard or land on improperly (on your heel).  However, because this is zero drop, landing on the heel is not a problem. I seem to land  ligtly with this shoe.  The other disadvantage is that shoes with cushioning aren't usually flexible.  The Instinct is actually a little more flexible than I expected.  It is by no means as flexible as other minimalist shoes but it definitely flexes enough for me.
The advantage of some cushioning is that it provides protection against long runs on unforgiving pavement. The Instinct works great for long runs and my feet have never been happier after putting in long miles.  The Altra Instinct will be my shoe of choice for all my long runs and probably my marathon in late September (tough to give a bigger compliment than that).

Altra has more shoes that are set to release in the coming months that include a trail version, a laced version of the Adam and Eve to accomidate more foot types, and other models that they are being pretty tight lipped about. Keep checking their website for updates. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Merrell Trail Glove Shoe Review

I have had the Merrell Trail Gloves for a few months now and was waiting to review them until I had done a Tempo run, a recovery run, and a longer run on the road and on trails.  The Trial Glove has exceeded my expectations on every run. 

Fit and Feel

As far as sizing is concerned, the shoe fits about a half size large.  I was unsure of what size to get so I ordered three different sizes, 9.5, 10, and 10.5.  I ended up going with the 10.  In the 9.5, my toes were touch the end of the toe box (not good when running down hill).  The 10.5 felt too large.  The 10 seemed to fit very nicely.  For reference, I wear a 42 in VFF Bikilas and KSOs.

Many blogs and reviews mention that the Trail Gloves are very snug through the midfoot and they consider this a negative.  While it is true that the Trail Glove is snug through the midfoot, I believe this to be a positive.  The snug midfoot holds the foot in place while allowing  the large toe box to not feel sloppy.  It takes a bit getting used to but when you are out on the trail with this shoe, flying around you will truly begin to appreciate the overall feel of this shoe.  

The Trail Glove is also zero drop.  Meaning that there is no height difference between the heel and the forefoot.  It sits on a completely flat plane.  There are only a handful of other shoe companies that have taken the lead and produced a zero drop shoe.  It is also extremely light weight and flexible which is also a must for a minimalist shoe.

Since there are already several reviews out for the Merrell Trail Glove, I wanted to go a little different route on how the Trail Glove performed  on several different types of runs. 

Recovery run (slower shorter)

I did a recovery run in the Trail Gloves after a hard tempo run and my longest barefoot run to that point.  This is probably my least favorite type of run for this shoe.  That is only because when I have this shoe on, I want to go fast.  The zero drop, light weight, racing flat feel of this shoe encourages me to pick of the pace.  This shoe lets you land on your forefoot effortlessly but also gives enough protection to allow a faster pace.  I really struggled keeping my speed to where is should be for a recovery run.  I think this shoe could be a good recovery run shoe but it will take some discipline to run at a slower pace.  The next two types of runs is where the Trail Glove really shines.

Tempo run

I did what I consider to be a short tempo run in the Trail Glove.  This was actually my first run in the this particular shoe and I didn't want to go too fast for too long.  That being said, I absolutely could have gone on a much longer temp run in these shoes.  As I stated previously these shoes really promote a forefoot strike and feel like a racing flat but with better ground feel.  At higher speeds the shoe feels really smooth and my gait felt really natural.  I never felt like I was pushing myself but my pace would indicate otherwise.  Obviously a shoe can not make you fast if you are not in any kind of shape but a good tempo racing shoe should not inhibit your uptempo running gait.  This shoe really allows you to have quick turnover. I ran a 5k in this shoe and had a huge PR in the race.  It really performed well but I probably would not do a longer road race in this shoe. I will explain that in a minute.

Long slow run (trail and road)

I recently took the Trail Glove out for a long run that consisted of many different terrains.  I encountered  everything from very rocky trail, to hard packed dirt, to several miles on the road.  The trail is what this shoe was designed for and thus performs the best on.  The Vibram outsole is extremely durable and has great grip on all running surfaces.  My Trail Gloves show no signs of wear on them with close to 100 miles on them.  I expect to get at least 500 miles out of them.  If there is any negative of this shoe, is that it is not a great road shoe.  At least not for me.  The aggressive outsole is not very forgiving on the the hard rode but again this shoe was designed for the trail.  Merrel will be coming out with a road version for men and women called  The Road Glove and Dash Glove respectively,  in the coming months.  Stay tuned.


The Merrel Trail Glove is by far one of my favorite running shoes.  It performs great in just about all conditions.  Right now it is my top choice for an upcoming 50k this fall.  I have no doubts this shoe will perform beautifully.