Author: G

Golden graduated with a degree in Exercise Science and did his collegiate studies on running technique & running injuries. He grew up working in his family’s running store, was an All-American Cross-Country runner, and holds a world-best for a 12-year old in the marathon at 2:45:34.

Detailed Story of How Altra Shoes Were Invented & Came to be

Altra began as a way to fix my customer’s injuries at my running store in the Wasatch Mountains.

Efficient, low impact running technique has always been a big deal in my family and at our running specialty store.

As a 240 pound defensive end, my father blew out all the cartilage in his knee playing college football and was told he would never walk normal and would never run again.  What the doctor didn’t know is that telling him that he wouldn’t be able to run was all but assuring that my dad would make it his mission to be able to do so. One day, he received a postcard from a friend in the mail for the Las Vegas Marathon which simply said “If you’re a real man, you’ll do this.”  Thinking to himself “I’m a real man”, he set his sights on the race.

He was unable to run at first and still can’t walk “normal” to this day, but eventually trained himself to be able to run by running the way elite Kenyan runners do—landing under a bent knee, which allowed the muscles of the leg to absorb the impact instead of his knee.  It was painfully obvious that if he landed with a typical American harsh heel strike, he would be sidelined with pain in his bone-on-bone knee. A few years after his first marathon, he went on to win the St. George Marathon in 2:22:01.  We still have his shoes from that race, complete with holes drilled in the midsole and the rubber ripped off the heel.  Getting the cushion and weight out of the heel of the shoe is what allowed my dad to be able to maintain his proper technique, which kept him from having unbearable knee pain.

As a result, I was taught to run “like a Kenyan” from an early age. Legend has it that I ran before I walked and proper running technique was always a focus of my training.  In the early 90’s, after having worked for Nike and Saucony, my dad opened a running specialty store—proper, low impact running technique quickly became a focus in how we helped customers to achieve their goals and avoid injury.

Additionally, my dad somehow discovered how to help solve problems for customers that came in the store with a foot condition. He started fitting their shoes a size to size and a half too large and left the laces at the bottom of the shoe super loose. Getting the feet to spread out and totally relax was extremely effective for bunions, neuromas, plantar fasciosis, metatarsalgia, and other common foot pain. I shortly came up with a method of lacing the shoes to skip the bottom laces entirely and get the foot to relax. This was the beginnings of our understanding that shoes need to actually be shaped like feet—not torpedoes—to be able to allow the feet to work naturally and avoid injury.

A theory on why injury rates haven’t gone down
In the mid to late 2000’s, I was managing the store post college. I had done my collegiate research on running technique and running injuries and one thing just wouldn’t leave my head—despite all the running shoe technologies, injury rates hadn’t gone down since the invention of the modern running shoe. In fact, some, like Achilles injuries, had actually gone up. I wanted to know why.

As a result, we started filming our customers with slow motion video and recognized an interesting phenomenon.  As we watched them run, their technique looked great when they were barefoot or when they wore spikes or 5k racing flats. However, as we watched these same people run in the traditional best selling running shoes that we were selling them, their form deteriorated drastically—they tended to land harshly on their heels out in front of their bodies with a straighter knee.

I still remember my father saying something along the lines of “I don’t know if we’re really helping people here. I teach everyone a lesson on how to run to protect their bodies, and then we sell them a pair of shoes that basically encourages them everyday to do just the opposite.” At this point I started analyzing the slow motion video closely and I noticed two things when people wore traditional running shoes:

  1. As their foot would swing out in front of their body, their foot would dorsiflex (toes up) and their heel would point more toward the ground. When people weren’t wearing shoes, their feet would stay more parallel with the ground.
  2. As their foot would come down to land, it would catch the ground a few inches earlier than it would without a shoe on—this also meant that the knee was less bent and therefore in less of a position to bend and let the 3 foot spring of the leg absorb impact.

One day as I was looking at the video and playing around with different shoes, I had a theory. I thought that:

  1. Perhaps the heel dropped towards the ground because the shoes were not weight balanced due to the heel of the shoe being a lot heavier. Afterall, most of the “technology” like Gel, Air, etc. is in the heel. Additionally most shoes have heavy heel counters as well.
  2. Maybe the foot caught the ground early because the midsole in the heel was much thicker than in the forefoot—which didn’t allow the foot to swing under the body like it was supposed to. (Around this time, we learned that virtually 99% of all running shoes were twice as thick in the heel as they were in the forefoot—the standard shoe at the time was a 24mm heel and 12mm forefoot.)

The Trusty Toaster Oven
Shortly thereafter, I thought I would test this theory. I took a pair of shoes home and threw them in my trusty mini oven. Since my father regularly modifying shoes, I asked him to remind me how hot to set the toaster oven to in order to be able to take the rubber outsole and foam midsole off the shoe. I believe the response was “275…just wait until the glue starts to bubble.” Truth be told I left them in a bit long and melted the laces and some of the TPU on the upper. They were ugly, but I was able to take off the outsole and midsole and glue in some flat Spenco foam, and then re-glue the rubber outsole back on. I had created a shoe that had the same amount of cushioning & thickness in the forefoot as it had in the heel.

(Putting Shoe in Toaster Oven.jpg)

I went for a run and for the first time in my life, I was wearing a cushioned, supportive shoe that wasn’t fighting my form…it felt like barefoot on the grass…or spikes on the track! I took them to the store and watched people on slow motion video…it seemed to work! People ran with better, lower impact, efficient technique…similar to barefoot or in spikes or flats. I then enlisted Robert at Village Shoemaker, to start modifying a set of shoes for the staff of the store to test. As I explained the idea to him of having shoes that left your feet in their natural position without raising the heel, he looked at me skeptically, pausing, and said “As a second generation Shoemaker and Pedorthist…that sure makes a lot of sense.”

Origins of the term ‘Zero Drop’
After Robert was sanding down a pair of shoes, he began to measure it and said “it looks like it is still dropping 2millimeters from the heel to the forefoot”, as I was always talking about making the shoes so they didn’t “drop” from heel to forefoot. He sanded a bit more and said “It looks like it’s dropping zero millimeters now”. I thought, “Robert, that’s it, we don’t have to call them the modified-hacked up shoes anymore, we’ll call them Zero Drop shoes!” The irony of course is that brands like New Balance & Merrell later started using our Zero Drop term to describe their non-cushioned, barefoot-like shoes…Zero Drop is a term to describe the cushioning of the shoe!

Long story short is that all but one of our staff members liked the original Jazz shoes we had modified, which we dubbed the “Jazzy Zero’s”.  The staff felt the shoes making it easier for them to run better, and wanted to help others. Eventually, we started modifying many of the best selling shoes in the store to Zero Drop. We started off by testing them on our “hopeless customers”—those who had tried the most cushioned shoe, the most supportive shoe, orthotics, PT, etc., but still had the same injury problems. We told them we had been testing these hacked up, modified shoes and that they appeared to make people run with lower impact technique, which might help their injury. Of course, we told them, we didn’t know, and they might make it worse!

Data on the Effects of Zero Drop Shoes
Many customers got a pair of shoes modified and we asked them to take a survey with them on the shoes and return it in six weeks to let us know if this was something worth pursuing to help our customers. The full page survey asked a lot of questions regarding what injuries got better or worse, what muscles got used more or less, and for how long etc. The crazy thing that happened, is that before the surveys came back, people’s friend’s started coming in. They said things like “You gave Joe a pair of these hacked up shoes that he claims make him run better and now his knee doesn’t hurt as bad. Can I try a pair?” In disbelief we thought, “so you want to try an ugly pair of hacked up shoes too?”

In a matter of a year, we had nearly 1,000 customers get modified, Zero Drop shoes! We also got a LOT of surveys back. The data indicated that the shoes improved running technique and were most effective for shin splints, IT Band, Runner’s Knee, & lower back pain. The survey data also let us know that with a traditionally cushioned shoe, most people had about three weeks of lower calf tightness. We also discovered around the same time period that most people took around a year to adjust to wearing a non-cushioned shoe, and that when people wore a heavily cushioned Zero Drop shoe, there was very little adjustment period.

With the data in hand, I began to write articles and show some of my favorite shoe companies what was going on. I explained how all they had to do was simply balance the cushioning from heel to forefoot and get the toes to totally spread out and relax and all these injuries get better because people’s bodies are working naturally. I was blown away when the requests fell on deaf ears and we were even ridiculed by some shoe companies.   As a huge fan of running shoes and these companies, I was a bit crushed when they told me they didn’t care about fixing injuries if it didn’t fit their marketing, design, or history. I had always just assumed that actually making the best product possible for the runner was first and foremost.

On my birthday—after failing to get any running shoe companies interested in building shoes that we believed were the best solution to helping our ailing customers—my cousin Jeremy Howlett was at my house and I told him what was going on. He hadn’t run in five years due to knee problems. I ended up giving him a pair of modified Zero Drop shoes, gave him a bit of a technique lesson, and he began to run successfully without pain again. He asked for a “real pair” and I told him they didn’t exist. He said: “Of course running shoes with the same amount of cushioning from heel to forefoot exist!” When he finally figured out they didn’t, he said “Well, we should just make them then!”

Of course, due to the rejection, I had been thinking of this for many months now, but regular people don’t just go start shoe companies. There are dozens of them…and starting a new one was not something I wanted to do.  However, deep down inside, I knew we had to do it. Soon thereafter, a friend hooked us up to pitch the idea to Joe Morton, the founder of Xango. I will forever be grateful for the large investment and incredible amount of mentoring Joe gave us, despite not even having a drawing of a shoe!

Jeremy eventually found a guy in the footwear industry that had connections and we set up a meeting with him. He liked the idea and knew the right guys who had formed a company called Proof of Concept—one had been the VP of Development at Adidas, one of the others had been in charge of Nike’s Advanced Concepts team & was the lead instructor at Nike U for years. When they first called, I thought we were getting sued for modifying shoes!

However, they stated that they had been wanting to do something very similar for a long time now. In fact, through internal research, some of them had known for about 15 years that shoes should be made with level cushioning and be shaped like feet. They explained that they knew how to build shoes and had the connections to factories, but that they didn’t have a marketing story and that we did. Two weeks later we took a road trip up to Vancouver, Washington to meet. We discussed how the shoes needed to be built, as well as business plans.

Soon we were designing foot-shaped Lasts and then shoe prototypes. The Last is the form the shoe is built around. We came up with the shapes for the Lasts by tracing feet in socks—but only the feet of people that didn’t have foot problems. We took a composite of the tracings and made the Lasts to be shaped exactly like the healthy sock-wearing feet.

As the months went on, we got real prototype shoes and they were awesome! Along the way, my buddy Jacob left. My good friend from high school and accomplished Ultramarathoner, Brian Beckstead, joined the quickly growing operation. After thousands of hours and hundreds of name ideas, we settled on the name Altra, a derivative of Altera, which meant to mend or fix that which is broken. Pretty soon, we were pitching our new shoe company at the Outdoor Retailer show and The Running Event—and people liked it. Others hated that we were challenging tradition. Next thing I knew, we were a half million to a million dollars in debt and here we are today! 😉

Together, we have worked tirelessly to bring the most natural footwear possible to the masses. We believe our footwear will reduce injuries,  make a difference, as well as make running more fun than ever.

Golden Harper, Founder

-Golden graduated with a degree in Exercise Science and did his collegiate studies on running technique & running injuries. He grew up working in his family’s running store, was an All-American Cross-Country runner, and holds a world-best for a 12-year old in the marathon at 2:45:34.
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itchy feet during pregnancy

Avoiding Foot Pain & Keeping Your Feet Healthy During Pregnancy

By Golden Harper & Dan Hoopes, M.D. (Originally written as a guest post for the Mumberry Pregnancy Workout Clothing Blog)

Did you know that in America, 73% of us report having foot pain or problems? Contrast this with only 3% of people in countries where they only wear sandals or don’t wear shoes at all! Unfortunately, our “fashionable” shoes are wreaking havoc on our feet, and surprise, it’s even worse for pregnant women. Pregnant women tend to complain of even more foot pain, due to the excess load their feet have to bare, the swelling that naturally occurs, and the sensitivity in the feet that comes along.

Dr. Dan Hoopes, a fellowship-trained Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Surgeon, says:

“Your feet will feel different and will not fit any shoes you have that are tight. This is because the hormones which are causing the ligaments to relax in the pelvis are also affecting the foot architecture. Your foot will need more space, especially in the area of the toes. It might go back after the baby is born, but it might be your new normal. Look for shoes that either have no toe box (no shoes, flip-flops, slippers) or a “foot-shaped” toe box (see my recommended shoe list here). For more information on these changes in your foot see this article from my professional society for Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Surgeons.”

Keep in mind that many foot problems during pregnancy—which stem from weak foot muscles, extra sensitivity in the feet, pointy toe boxes, and elevated heels— may be exacerbated due to extra weight. Here are a few tips to help your feet fare better through your pregnancy:

  • Start a foot strengthening routine early in your pregnancy so your feet can handle the excess load they will be called to bare later. Practice standing on one foot with your eyes closed, pull a towel in with your toes while you’re watching TV or reading a book, etc.
  • Try buying your socks a size larger to make your feet more comfortable when they swell. Also note that many women’s feet grow as well, so you may need to buy bigger shoes also.
  • Use thicker socks to help out with the extra sensitivity on the bottom of your feet.
  • Many women comment that normally wear very lightweight or low profile shoes note that they experience less discomfort in a more cushioned athletic shoe than they would normally wear due to the extra weight & sensitivity that they experience.
  • Avoid wearing shoes with heels of any size, as they put extra pressure on your forefoot and leave you more susceptible to rolling an ankle.
  • Avoid wearing shoes with tapered toe boxes. Hint: Put your foot down next to your shoe—if your shoe is more pointy than your foot then don’t wear it. Consider buying shoes that are more shaped like feet as these will let your feet take on their natural form and help to accommodate swelling, excess weight, and sensitivity better.
  • Stay active and exercise to increase blood flow. Take breaks from sitting more often.
  • Since your growing uterus puts pressure on your veins, and slows blood to the heart, causing swelling—try lying on your back with your feet elevated for 10-15 minutes.

    Altra X-Ray Image

    X-Ray of a Foot-shaped Altra athletic shoe vs. a traditional shoe w/ a tapered to box

Dr. Hoopes adds that to keep in mind that swelling is sometimes part of the deal with pregnancy and that you can lessen it further with these tips:

  • “Lie on your left side since that will get the baby off your vena cava. That’s that largest vein in your body pulling blood from all parts of your body (and reducing swelling) and it is on the RIGHT side of your spine, just behind the uterus.
  • Putting your feet up. I always tell my patients that gravity is your enemy and your friend. Enemy when your feet are down and your friend when they’re up!
  • Use knee or thigh-high compression stockings if you aren’t able to put your feet up.

*If you have excessive or rapidly increasing foot/ankle swelling, see your doctor ASAP. It could be a sign of preeclampsia, which is a very serious pregnancy condition. One recent study suggests that taking Vitamin D could reduce the risk of preeclampsia. Vitamin D supplements have almost no risk, are pennies a day, and have many possible upsides. More information is available here.

Although many women have major problems with their feet during and after pregnancy, nearly all of them are preventable. With the proper care & preparation, most women can go through pregnancy without any significant foot pain or problems. My wife is nearly 7 months pregnant and she has been free of foot pain thus far. She strengthened her feet prior to pregnancy, and doesn’t wear shoes that have tapered toe boxes or heels of any height. She has tried to stay active with running, Yoga, Tennis, core workouts, and more. As she has gained weight, she has started to wear more cushioned running & athletic shoes, and she is wearing looser socks than she wore in the past.

Show your feet a little love and treat them right, and they’ll treat you right, even during a long, hard pregnancy!

Golden Harper graduated with a degree in Exercise Science with an emphasis in Fitness & Wellness. He did his collegiate studies on running technique & running injuries & has studied feet & foot problems extensively. He grew up working in his family’s running store and holds a world-best for a 12-year old in the marathon at 2:45:34.

Dan Hoopes MD is a fellowship-trained Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Surgeon who has done extensive research and a special interest in runners and how they can get (and stay) healthy. See his bio here.

Open Toe Lacing System

Here’s the lacing technique that we started doing at our running store to help fix our customers foot problems. This in combination with Hawk selling shoes “too big” to people with foot problems was the first way we proved out a need for shoes to actually be shaped like feet.

It works well for nearly every foot type—those with wider feet especially love it.  Back when I managed the running store, about three fourths of customers preferred & used this lacing.   This unique lacing system allows the forefoot complete room to expand and breathe while securing the heel and preventing “lace creep”.

Simply skip straight under from the first set of lace holes to the second without crossing, and then skip straight over to the third set without crossing.  Lace as usual up to the second to last set of holes.  At this point, create a pulley system by threading straight in to the last hole without crossing and simply dropping the lace from the opposite side in to the hole you have created.   Relax your forefoot and Run Natural!

 

Notes:
-It is recommended to have the laces over the top of the arch/instep be loose enough to be able to slide a finger under them after the shoe is tied.
-The lacing should fit snug at the heel, relaxed over the arch, and wide open at the forefoot.
-It may feel “too loose” at first—this is good—the foot will learn to spread out and relax within a few minutes to a few days.
-Try lacing only one shoe this way & going for a run.  You may notice after a few miles that the entire leg with this lacing system is more relaxed than the other leg.  If the foot muscles can relax, there is a chain reaction to the rest of the leg.

 

The Best Running Shoe Lacing Technique Ever

Do people that don’t wear shoes get bunions? Not really.

It’s pretty simple. Researchers who have studied populations of people that don’t wear shoes have found next to no bunions in these people! Various studies have shown 0% of non-shoe wearing populations have bunions (or hallux valgus), while 2 other studies have shown as much as 1.9% (although it should be noted that the people in this study occasionally wore shoes.)

In fact, only 3% of people in non-shoe wearing populations have any kind of foot malady. Contrast that with the 73% of Americans who take the time to report foot pain! (2010 APMA Survey). In my opinion as someone who has studied this stuff my whole life, our modern footwear is almost the sole source of our foot problems.

Are bunions causes by over-pronation? Not really. Unless of course that is caused by a shoe with a tapered toe box (bunion creator) or an elevated heel which causes the foot to roll in in the first place. Supposed “over-pronation” has never been significantly linked to any injury.

Are bunions caused by tight fitting shoes? Absolutely! They’re also caused by supposed well fitting shoes that aren’t shaped like feet (i.e. 99% of all shoes).Most people have never even thought about it, but almost all shoes are shaped more like pizza slices or torpedoes than they are healthy human feet!

Are bunions caused by high heels? Yes. But they’re also caused by low heels. A heel of any height causes your big toe to move inward, which pushes the bunion out.

Do your feet and bunions a favor—get a pair of shoes that are actually shaped like your feet and that have no heel elevation.  Altra, Lems Shoes, & VivoBarefoot all make great shoes for this!

If your big toe joint is still flexible, consider Correct Toes to help re-shape your feet over time. Use them while active, like when walking or driving, for best effect. http://www.correcttoes.com

http://refs.ahcuah.com/papers/shulman.htm (Shows 0% Hallux Valgus or Bunions in Chinese and Indian Populations that don’t wear shoes)

https://ahcuah.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/zomg-high-heels-dont-cause-bunions-new-study-reveals/

A few citations:

Hoffman, P. 1905. Conclusions drawn from a comparative study of the feet of barefooted and shoe-wearing peoples. The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 3, 105-136.

Lam Sim-Fook and Hodgson, A. R. 1958.  A comparison of foot forms among the non-shoe and shoe-wearing Chinese Population. 7. Bone 7t Surg., 40A, 1058.

Shine, I. B. 1965. Incidence of hallux valgus in a partially shoe-wearing community. British Medical Journal, 1, 1648-1650.

Kato, T. and Watanabe, S. 1981. The etiology of hallux valgus in Japan. Clinical Orthopedics and Related Research, 157, 78-81.

 

 

2014: My Journey Back to Running After a Life Altering Accident


Those who know me know that I have spent a lifetime either running, studying running, talking running or working on something to do with running.  I was running races at age two and finished my first marathon in 3:08:05 as a ten year old.   Aside from a two year break from competition to serve a mission for my church, I’ve been running competitively since before I have memories.  That all changed in January of 2012 when I had a terrible snowboarding accident.  I hit a pipe while doing a flip going 30 miles per hour—this threw me upside down and I landed on my shoulder and my helmet with a crack.  As I hit, I was folded in half like an accordion with my backside coming around to the ground and the weight of my board and my feet hitting above my head.  If you know me, you know I am anything but flexible and this was a position I can’t get within three feet of in normal circumstances.  Imagine lying on your back and pulling your straightened legs towards your head and then having someone jump on them to get them to hit the ground behind your head.  Needless to say, it was painful and I knew right away it was serious.

I ended up stretching/straining/tearing everything between my hamstrings and my glutes.  I also suffered a badly separated shoulder which is still obviously visible to this day.  The pain was excruciating and I couldn’t really walk at first and I certainly could not run.  To not be able to run fast for the first time in my life was life altering to say the least.  I went to physical therapy and tried to do what I could to recover and within a few months I was able to hike, and my girlfriend at the time—now my wife—kicked my butt up many a mountain that spring.  By the summer, I was able to run slowly, very slowly, so I decided that since I could only go really slow, I might as well go long.  We tackled quite a few mountains in the Wasatch that year, with my glutes & hamstrings screaming the whole time. Every time I tried to push, my legs held me back.

After one year, it was apparent that my injuries were serious and competition wasn’t going to happen any time soon, if ever again.  There didn’t seem to be a whole lot more the physical & massage therapists could do.  I spent 2013 running with girlfriend.  I had a blast running somewhere not at the front of the pack, mixing it up with people I never would have met had I been running fast.  I gained even more respect and appreciation for those not taking home winners trophies.  I remembered what I had always known, running is wonderful and fun, even when you’re not taking home hardware.  I ran to the top of a lot of mountains in 2013, becoming the first person to run to the top of all of the 11,000 foot peaks in the Wasatch Range.  And I remembered that running just for the sake of running is a beautiful blessing.

Running on top of Mt. Raymond

Running on top of Mt. Raymond

2014 started off much like 2013, and I spent the first few months running with my now wife and enjoying it.  But the itch to be able to really push again kept nagging at me.  Although my legs were damaged, my lungs and the rest of me wanted to be pushed.  There is something to be said for pushing yourself, whether you are fast or not.  Somewhere along the way, I pushed my legs close to the breaking point.  Only now something different happened…they didn’t ache and get worse.  In fact, they seemed to get a bit better.  Soon I figured out that the only way to get my legs better was to push them hard, but not over the edge.  Each time I did this, I gained a little more range of motion and a little more speed than I previously had.

Brit and I on July 4th

Brit and I on July 4th

So my wife eventually convinced me to race a 5k, not knowing what she was getting in to.  At this point, I could run fast for only a couple of miles before my legs killed me, so a 5k was really my only option anyway.  The 5k is a blast and is under appreciated in the distance running world.  I raced 5k’s most of the year because that’s all my legs would let me do.  I ran to the top of a few mountains along the way, but going long and hard/fast wasn’t an option. By the end of the year I was able to race a 10k without much in the way of complications.    My legs still aren’t 100% and neither am I, but I had a great year pushing myself.  I was lucky enough to win nine races, three of which my wife won overall as well, which will be something I will always cherish.  Although I am not at the national-class level I once was, and may never be again, it feels great to be out there pushing myself within the limits that my body currently allows.  I am grateful for that, and still feel that running just for the sake of running is still a beautiful blessing.

2014 Race Roundup

In my first year attempting to race since my big accident, I managed to pull off 9 Overall Wins, 4 Second Place Overall finishes, 4 Age Division Wins, and had some great experiences on road & trail.  Met a ton of wonderful people along the way and had the pleasure of my wife and I both winning 3 races together!

4/5/14 Run 4 Kids – 2nd Overall

4/26/14 Cookie Chaser 5k Herriman 17:18 – 2nd Overall

5/10/14 Vigor Big Cottonwood 5k 15:49 – OVERALL WIN

5/17/14 RWE Relay – Team was 3rd Overall – Had a 4:46 mile

5/21/14 Wasatch Trail Corner Canyon Short Course 3.5 mile Race: OVERALL WIN

6/7/14 Vigor Solitude Trail Series 3 Mile – OVERALL WIN

6/21/14 Butterfield Brawl Trail 10k – OVERALL WIN

6/28/14 Run Through the Lavender 5k – 2nd Overall

7/4/11 Riverton Country Mile 5k – 2nd Overall

7/11/14 Salem, MA Miles Over the Moon 23:06 – 6th Overall

8/23/14 Bryce Canyon Rim Run (Trail Race) – OVERALL WIN

9/13/14 Dirty Dash 10k – Passed over 1,000 people!

9/20/14 Grizzly Tracks 5k – OVERALL WIN 16:35

10/18/14 Runner’s World 5k Emmaus PA – 1st Division

11/1/14 Snow Canyon 5k – OVERALL WIN

11/8/14 Thanksgiving Crazy Course Race – OVERALL WIN

11/22/14 Hillcrest DECA 5k – OVERALL WIN

11/27/14 Mesa Turkey Trot 10k AZ 34:29 – 4th Overall/Division Win

12/4/14 TRE Indie 5k – 16:59

 Totals:

9x OVERALL WINS

4x 2nd PLACE OVERALL

4x Age Division WINS

1 Honeymoon Cruise Ship Rock Climbing Competition Medal!

Running Tet Paul Trail in St. Lucia with one of the Pitons in the background

Running Tet Paul Trail in St. Lucia with one of the Pitons in the background

Running Philosophy: How to be a Better, Healthier Runner

Healthy Running Philosophy: How to be a Better Runner & Run Injury Free

One of the most common questions runners ask me is how they can improve and at the same time stay healthy.  Although there is no proven way to do this, I feel that I’ve learned a lot through the years that can be passed on.  I spent my years in college studying running injuries & running technique, and I also worked in a running store for nearly 2 decades where learning to help people not hurt was the name of the game.  Through my studies and hands on experience, I’ve come to believe there are four major causes of running injuries:

  1. Repetitive Stress & Muscle Imbalances (Mostly caused by man-made surfaces)
  2. Poor Running Technique
  3. Poor Foot & Body Function & Strength
  4. Over-training

As a result, there are possible solutions for each one:

  1. Repetitive Stress & Muscle Imbalances
    World renowned Exercise Scientist & 1984 Olympic Trials Marathon Champion Pete Pfitzinger wrote “Most running injuries occur because of the repetitive nature of the running stride…You can address…by correcting muscle imbalances…and by adjusting your running surface…”(1) Our bodies were not created to run repetitively on a uniform surface such as a road, track, or treadmill.  Therefore, it is imperative that runners search out and run on variable, uneven surfaces such as trails, cobblestones, and grass as much as possible. This allows more intrinsic and stabilizing muscles to get involved, thereby balancing the muscle structure. A soft surface like a track will not reduce injury.  In fact, track running actually encourages more injury because it is so extremely consistent.  The more different each step is and the more the whole body gets involved, the more effective the surface is at preventing injury.   My studies in college showed that trail runners were far less injured than road runners, but that most runners could reduce injury by running one-third of their mileage on variable terrain.  The book Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry is the comprehensive source on why muscle balance matters and how to avoid injury.
  2. Poor Running Technique
    Since most runners have never been trained on HOW to run efficiently with low impact, most of them over-stride and run with inefficient, high impact running technique.  Unfortunately, most shoes literally teach bad form as well, because most running shoes have elevated heels that are twice as heavy and twice as thick as the forefoot of the shoe.  In any other sport, there is focus on performing the tasks of the sport correctly to reduce injury and improve performance—running should be no different.  Become a student of good running form to learn how to protect your body.  I highly recommend filming yourself as most people don’t run the way they think they run! Additionally, getting a pair of Zero Drop shoes—shoes without an elevated heel—will make it much easier to run with good technique.  Any heel elevation, even 4mm, will cause a weight and height imbalance that will encourage an early, unnatural foot-strike. Although there is no ideal running form, there are a few things that nearly all elite runners and non-injured runners have in common:

    1) Proud, Forward Momentum Posture: Hips & Chest are pushed forward without bending at the waist.
    2) Compact Arms: Elbows shouldn’t swing forward past the hips unless sprinting—this will keep the body in proper position and prevent over-striding.
    3) Soft Landing Under a Bent Knee: Don’t think about foot-strike, as it will take care of itself if the other points are done correctly. Most people will naturally land somewhere between a slight heel strike and the middle of the foot.  Excessive heel striking or forefoot/toe striking is discouraged.
    4) High Cadence: Nearly all elites have been observed to have around 180+ steps per minute.  For most people, ultimately shooting for at least 170 steps per minute will drastically improve form, improve foot-strike, and reduce impact.
    See www.AltraRunBetter.com for more detail.  I also recommend reading Programmed to Run by Dr. Tom Miller.

  3. Poor Foot Strength & Function
    To improve performance and avoid injury from the ground up, both the foot and the core of the body need to be strong and in their natural position.  The foot is the foundation of the body and it is therefore critical that the foot be strong & be allowed to function naturally—yet most Americans have weak feet that are inhibited by shoes that move their feet out of natural position and function by raising their heels and crowding their toes with pointy toe-boxes.
    Keep your body in its natural position whenever possible. Your running shoes are important, but what you wear the rest of the day is equally important.  If your shoes aren’t the same shape as your spread out foot in a sock, get new shoes.  Shoes that will put your feet in their most natural, powerful position will not include tapered toe-boxes, elevated heels, or excessive “arch support”.

    Tapered toe-boxes don’t allow the foot & toes to naturally absorb impact, stabilize the body, and push off the ground the way they are meant to.  They also contribute to bunions, neuromas, Plantar Fasciosis, and other foot maladies.
    Elevated heels shorten the calves and Achilles tendon and make the body column compensate, causing extra pressure on the lower back, hips, & knees.  Therefore shoes should be flat, flexible, and shaped like healthy feet.  Wearing footwear like this will allow your feet to function properly and become strong and dynamic.  The stress on the feet from hard, consistent, man-mad surfaces can be reduced by having some cushioning in the shoe.
    Excessive “arch support” and/or orthotics weaken the feet and create a vicious addiction cycle until the feet are strengthened and learn how to work without them again.  Those addicted to supposed “arch support” need to strengthen their feet and slowly phase the orthotics or arch supports out over a period of a few months as their feet get stronger and become the support.

    Additionally, most Americans sit all day at work and have weak core muscles.  If you sit at work, consider using an exercise ball as a chair some of the time.  Take walks at least every hour if possible. It is also critical to strengthen core muscles through Strength Training, Yoga, Pilates, Climbing, or other Cross Training Activities.

  4. Over-training
    Combating over-training is one of the hardest things for a runner to do
    .  For most of us, it is in our nature to push it.  We get excited about a race or how our training is going and then we push it too hard.   Unfortunately, the best solution to this one seems to be to stop being a runner! In all seriousness though, just remember that training smarter is better than training harder.  It is proven that you will get improve more from running a Lactate Threshold workout at 15k to Half Marathon pace and NOT by going faster.  It is also proven that your v02Max workouts will give your body benefit at your 3k to 5k pace and you will get more benefit at that pace than by running harder.  I recommend reading “Road Racing for Serious Runners” to better understand how to get faster by training smarter and not harder.
    It is almost inevitable that a runner will get sick, experience a life event that disrupts running, or get injured in some form during training—often this will be non-running related.  For this reason, I highly recommend planning a couple weeks of down time in to each training season.  If and when you have to use this time, it doesn’t affect you as negatively because you’ve planned on it.  If you don’t have to use it, you’re just that much further ahead.

There are probably a thousand other items that could be added in, but these are some of the big ones!  At the end of the day, most runners can avoid injury by avoiding over-training, becoming a student of their running form, running on natural, variable surfaces, and by putting their body in its natural, most powerful state.

(1) Road Racing for Serious Runners, Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas, pg. 70.

I’m a newer runner, what should I look for in a shoe?

Running Shoes for Newer Runners

“What should my first pair of real running shoes be?”

During the nearly twenty years I spent working and managing a running store, I often heard the same question quite often: “What shoes should I get if I’ve never really had running shoes before?”  It was always a tough question, because  each individual is so different and has different needs when it comes to how much cushion or support they could benefit from.  With that said—with any sport, there is always a universal need to learn HOW to do the sport properly and have the right equipment that encourages proper technique.   In fact, in some sports, beginners are often given pieces of equipment that are training tools that over-emphasize proper form or expedite the learning process.

Unfortunately, the running world hasn’t seemed to have caught on to this yet.  In fact, running is probably the only sport we spend virtually no time teaching new-comers how to properly do the sport and just tell them to “go run”.  No wonder the injury rate is so high! This is equivalent to taking a kid and throwing him in the pool and just saying “go swim”, or giving a kid a basketball and saying “go shoot!”  Sure, you’ll get better over time, but it will be slow and painful, you’ll likely get injured over time, and you’ll most likely have to unlearn some bad habits as you progress.

Additionally, running is probably the only sport where our equipment typically works against us and encourages less than ideal technique.  Indeed, most running shoes encourage beginning runners—and all runners—to run WRONG! The vast majority of running shoes contain cushioning that is twice as heavy and twice as thick in the heel as it is in the front of the shoe.  This additional weight and height in the heel of the shoe causes a runner to land more out in front of their body, and more on their heels.   Simply put, most traditional running shoes encourage a runner to run with higher impact, inefficient form than they otherwise would.

If you are having a hard time believing this, simply film yourself running for 5 minutes in traditional running shoes, and then film yourself for 5 minutes running barefoot or in a shoe that is very thin or perfectly flat.  Watch the last minute of each video.  The changes in landing (foot strike), knee angle, overall posture, and stride rate (cadence) are incredible! With that said, I’m not advocating barefoot for beginners—unless they are VERY patient people and want to start barefoot—for a variety of reasons.  More on this later.

Running is also likely the only sport where our main piece of equipment puts our body in a less than ideal position for balance, stability, and power.   The ability of the foot to naturally spread out on landing, stabilize the body further by engaging the big toe, and powerfully push off from this position is a critical piece of being able to run efficiently and injury free.  Simply put, the foot should be able to spread out upon landing and therefore 1) absorb impact, 2) naturally stabilize, and 3) push off the ground efficiently.  As the foot hits the ground and spreads out into its widest position, it is naturally more powerful and more stable.  Think of the wide, low stance of a sports car or trying to do push-ups with your fingers together versus spread apart.

Unfortunately, although feet are naturally widest at the toes, most running shoes feature tapered toe boxes that are shaped more like torpedoes than they are like healthy human feet.   X-ray images show that tapered toe boxes cause significantly more bone stress in the feet, which is a precursor to stress fractures. This tapered shape inhibits the body’s ability to naturally spread out the foot to absorb impact, stabilize, and push off the ground powerfully.  To drive the point home, the majority of people buy shoes too narrow for their feet. In fact, the width of the average female shoe sold is nearly 2 sizes narrower than the average female foot. No wonder 73% of Americans report foot pain as compared to only a 3% incidence in non-shoe wearing populations! Take a look at your foot in a non-constricting sock and compare that shape to the shape of your shoe and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.  If you’ve been wearing shoes that are too narrow for many years, your feet may be starting to look more like the shoes you wear than actual feet, which is a precursor to many foot problems, and only gets worse with age.  If this is you, I recommend something called Correct Toes to help get your feet back to a naturally functioning & healthy shape.

Now ultimately, a beginning runner can also benefit from some degree of cushioning and support to protect the feet from man-made surfaces and allow them to progress faster than they would otherwise.

So ultimately, in my opinion, and the opinion of the American College of Sports Medicine, the ideal running shoe for a beginning runner would not contain the heavy, elevated heel that teaches poor, high impact technique.  The ideal running shoe for a newer runner would also not feature a traditional tapered toe box which ultimately inhibits impact absorption and is responsible for so many common foot maladies.  A great running shoe for a beginner would also have just enough cushioning to allow them to be comfortable and allow them to progress and add mileage on a variety of surfaces.   An important consideration should be made that some newer runners may have weak feet, and could benefit from using a very soft, lightweight arch support until their feet become strong enough to go without it.

For these reasons, I believe newer runners are best off in a shoe that is cushioned but Zero Drop, and shaped like a healthy human foot.  These things will allow the foot to function properly and the body to run with efficient, low impact running technique.  In short, a cushioned, Zero Drop, Foot-shaped shoe like Altra will help a beginning runner learn good habits from the start and possibly reduce many injuries instead of the status quo. As with all things, I recommend trying things out first to make sure it works for you, as each of us is an individual with unique needs.  Happy Running!

-K. Golden Harper

Golden graduated with a degree in Exercise Science and did his collegiate studies on running technique & running injuries. He grew up working in his family’s running store and holds a world-best for a 12-year old in the marathon at 2:45:34.

About Golden Harper

Golden HarperDSCF1250 (2) (Custom)

Golden started running as soon as he left crawling and has never looked back.

Between the ages of 10 and 14, Golden ran 5 marathons, debuting with a State Record 3:08 performance.  He followed that up with a 2:57 performance that was good for a National Best for age 11.  At age12, he ran the St. George Marathon in 2:45:34, setting a world best. He went on to win two Cross Country State Championships.  He beat Ryan Hall to make it to the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships & broke the previous National Record for the 5k in Cross Country that day, but was beaten by the likes of Dathan Ritzenhein, Matt Tegenkamp, Ian Dobson, Josh Rohatinsky, and Alan Webb.   His Senior year of college, Golden came close to going undefeated at collegiate distance Cross Country races.

Golden has always been an avid mountain runner, and has recorded top finishes in many mountain races in the Rockies, including winning his debut 50 mile race by nearly an hour against a competitive field of sponsored athletes.

In addition to competitive running, Golden grew up working in his family’s specialty running store, educating people about proper running technique and becoming an expert on running injuries.  His 20 years of working (& nearly 10 years of management) at a running store are a huge asset.

Golden studied Exercise Science at two Universities, where he was particularly focused on biomechanics, kinematics, and coaching.  During this time, he wrote several research articles on running-related injuries and running technique.

With the knowledge of proper biomechanics and a passion for reducing running injuries, he developed the first cushioned Zero Drop™ running shoes after appeals to major shoe companies fell on deaf ears. Golden’s running experience and commitment to helping people run better were a driving force in the creation of Altra.

  • Education

o   Graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science: Fitness & Wellness with a Business Management emphasis

o   1st Team All-Conference in Cross Country

o   Academic All-American in Cross Country

  • Work History

o   Runner’s Corner Buyer and General Manager (1991-2011)

  • Personal Bests

o   Mountain 50 Miler – 9:12, Alpine to Slick Rock

o   Marathon – 2:44:53, St. George Marathon (Age 13)

o   Cross Country 10k – 31:04 (At Altitude)

o   Cross Country 8k – 25:06

o   5k – 14:45

o   3200m/2 Mile – 9:09

o   1600m/Mile – 4:19

  • Major Overall Wins

o   2x Cross Country State Titles

o   PacWest Conference Cross Country Championship

o   Jupiter Peak Steeplechase

o   Alpine to Slick Rock 50 Miler

  • Family

o   Despite both coming from non-athletic backgrounds & starting to run later in life, Golden’s parents have both achieved the highest levels of running.

o   His father Hawk has finished over 70 marathons, winning several, and posting a personal best of 2:22. He also holds a state record for the Double Marathon.

o   His mother Cheryl held the State Record in the Marathon for 20 years and went to the Olympic Trials 4 times.  She also set a National Best by running a 24:39 8k.

o   Golden’s family has won nearly 20 state titles.  His three Sisters Amber, Krystal, and Summer have all won State Championships in Cross Country.  Krystal and Summer have both won National Championships for USAT&F Cross Country.