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.

Running Shoe Recommendations are NOT Based on Science

Below are excerpts from one of my favorite articles of all time, by Steve Magness of Science of Running. He details how running shoe recommendations such as neutral, stability, etc. are not based on science. He also discusses how our understanding of things like cushioning and pronation work are also distorted by propaganda from shoe companies. When I first read this while managing my running store, this rocked my world, and I decided to use the information to help my customers, rather than be afraid of it because it changed our business model and approach. 

Our bodies are smarter and more adaptive than we give them credit for. This is a must read for every runner in my opinion!

Why Running Shoes Do Not Work—Looking at Pronation, Cushioning, Motion Control, and Barefoot Running

By Steve Magness, ScienceOfRunning.com

The running shoe model needs to be fixed. Pronation, Motion Control, Cushioning, and Stability shoes? Get rid of them all.

It’s not just barefoot running and minimalism versus running shoes, the either/or situation many portray it to be. It’s much deeper than that. It’s not even that running shoe companies are evil and out to make a profit. Shoe companies may be accomplishing the goals they set out for, but maybe the goals their aiming for are not what need to be done. The paradigm that running shoes are built upon is the problem.
Running shoes are built upon two central premises, impact forces and pronation. Their goals are simple, limit impact forces and prevent overprontation. This has led to a classification system based on cushioning, stability, and motion control. The problem is that this system may not have any ground to stand on. Have we been focused on the wrong things for 40+years?
I’ll start with the customary statistic of 33-56% of runners get injured every year (Bruggerman, 2007). That is kind of mind blowing when you think about it. Since there are a ton of injuries going on, let’s look at what shoes are supposed to do.

Pronation:
As said earlier, shoes are built upon the premise that impact forces and pronation are what cause injuries. Pronation, in particular has been constructed as the bane of all runners. We have become inundated with limiting pronation via motion control shoes. The central idea behind pronation is that overpronating causes rotation of the lower leg (i.e. ankle,tibia, knee), putting stress on the joints and therefore leading to injuries. Running shoes are therefore designed to limit this pronation. Essentially, running shoes are developed and designed to put the body in “proper” alignment. But do we really need proper alignment?
This paradigm on pronation relies on two main things: (1) Over-pronation causes injuries and (2) Running shoes can alter pronation.
Looking at the first premise, we can see several studies that do not show a link between pronation and injuries. In an epidemiological study by Wen et al. (1997), he found that lower extremitly alignment was not a major risk factor for marathon runners. In another study by Wen et al. (1998), this time a prospective study, he concluded that “Minor variations in lower extremity alignment do not appear conclusively to be major risk factors for overuse injuries in runners.” Other studies have reached similar conclusions. One by Nigg et al. (2000) showed that foot and ankle movement did not predict injuries in a large group of runners.
If foot movement/pronation does not predict injuries or is not a risk factor for injuries, then one has to question whether the concept is sound or working…
Looking at the second premise, do shoes even modify pronation? Motion control shoes are designed to decrease pronation through a variety of mechanisms. Most choose to insert a medial post or a similar device. In a study by Stacoff (2001), they tested several motion control shoe devices and found that they did not alter pronation and did not change the kinematics of the Tibia or Calcaneus bones either. Similarly, another study by Butler (2007) found that motion control shoes showed no difference in peak pronation when compared to cushioning shoes. Lastly, Dixon (2007) found similar results showing that motion control shoes did not reduce peak eversion (pronation) and didn’t change the concentration of pressure.
This is sort of a double whammy on motion control shoes. If excessive pronation does not cause injuries to the degree that everyone thinks, and if motion control shoes don’t even alter pronation, what’s the point of a motion control shoe?

Cushioning:
Impact forces are the other major scoundrel of running injuries. The thinking goes like this, the greater the impact force on the lower the leg, the greater stress the foot/leg takes, which could potentially lead to injuries. To combat this fear, running shoes, particular cushioning ones, are to the rescue. Let’s take a look.
The first question is, do cushioning shoes do their job?
Wegener (2008) tested out the Asics Gel-Nimbus and the Brooks Glycerin to see if they reduced plantar pressure. They found that the shoes did their job!….But where it reduced pressure varied highly—Meaning that pressure reduction varied between forefoot/rearfoot/etc. This led to the interesting conclusion that there should be a shift in prescribing shoes to one based on where plantar pressure is highest for that individual person. It should be noted that this reduction in pressure was based on a comparison to another shoe, a tennis shoe. I’m not sure that this is a good control. Basically, this study tells us that cushioned running shoes decrease peak pressure when compared to a Tennis shoe.
In a review on the subject, Nigg (2000) found that both external and internal impact force peaks were not or barely influenced by the running shoes midsole. This means that the cushioning type does not change impact forces much, if at all. But how can this be? I mean it’s common sense if you jumped on concrete vs. jumped on a shoe foam like surface, the shoe surface is softer right? We’ll come back to this question in a minute.

Underestimating Our Body: Impact forces as feedback:
Back to the question I asked earlier: How can impact forces not change based on shoe sole softness and why isn’t running on hard surfaces lead to more injuries?
The problem is, once again, we underestimate the human body! It’s an amazing thing, and we never give it the credit it deserves. The body adapts to the surface that it’s going to strike, if you give it a chance. The body adapts to both shoe and surface adjusting impact forces via changes joint stiffness, the way the foot strikes, and a concept called muscle tuning.
An example of this can be seen with barefoot running, the diminished proprioception (sensory feedback) of wearing a shoe negates the cushioning of the shoe.  Studies using minimal shoes/barefoot have shown that the body seems to adapt the impact forces/landing based on feedback and feedforward data. When running or landing from a jump, the body takes in all the sensory info, plus prior experiences, and adjusts to protect itself/land optimally.  As mentioned above, it does this through a variety of mechanisms. Thus, you stick some cushioned running shoe on the bottom of your foot and the body goes “Oh, we’re okay, we don’t need to worry about impact as much, we’ve got this soft piece…on our foot.
One concept that needs to be further discussed is muscle tuning. It’s a concept recently proposed by Nigg et al. in 2000. He sees impact force as a signal or a source of feedback, as I stated earlier. The body then uses this information and adjusts accordingly to minimize soft tissue vibration and/or bone vibration. His contention is that impact force is not the problem, but rather the signal. Muscle tuning is essentially controlling these vibrations via a variety of methods. One potential mechanism is pre-activation. Pre-activation is activation of the muscles prior to impact. In this case it serves as a way of muscle tuning to prepare for impact and in addition can alter muscle stiffness, which is another way to prepare for impact. Pre-activation has been established with multiple EMG studies.
Shoes not only impact this, but surface type does too. As mentioned previously, the change in running surface did not impact injury rates. Why? Probably because the body adapts to running surface. In an interesting study measuring muscle activity, O’Flynn(1996) found that pre-activation changed based on surface. To prepare for impact, and presumably to minimize muscle/bone vibration, when running on concrete pre-activation was very high, when running on a soft track, not so much.

What all of this means is that the body adapts via sensory input. It has several different adaptation methods. A shoe influences how it adapts. The shoe is not doing anything to alter cushioning, it is simply altering how the body responds to impact. It’s a significant mindset jump if you think about it. Here’s the summary:
The type of shoe and material of the shoe changes impact NOT because of alignment of the lower leg or because of changes in cushioning. Instead it changes impact characteristics because it alters the sensory feedback
In conclusion on the cushioning concept. Well, what are we trying to cushion? Heel impact forces have not been shown to relate to injuries, in fact in one study low impact runners had a 30% injury rate compared to a 20% injury rate in high impact runners. Shoe midsoles do not change, or marginally change impact forces anyway. So, not only may cushioning not be the answer, the shoes might not even be doing their job. But what about those shoe cushioning studies showing improved cushioning with their new midsole?! Well, the majority of that testing is done by using a machine to simulate the impact forces that you experience during running. That means, yes it may cushion an impact more, but it doesn’t take into account the role of the body adjusting impact based on feedback.
The reason cushioning doesn’t work? Because the body adapts based on feedback and feedforward information. These results prompted one notable researcher(Nigg,2000) to call for the reconsideration of the cushioning paradigm for running shoes.

Barefoot running?
Quickly, this topic could not be complete without a brief mention of barefoot running. An interesting thing to note is that the initial peak impact force is absent in barefoot running when compared to running with shoes. What this means is that, the impact forces look like (A) for (raised heel) shoes and (B) for barefoot. That initial little blip in A is the initial impact force. There is a hypothesis that this initial impact force is related to injuries.

Impact Transient Heel vs Forefoot

A=Heel Strike/Heeled Shoes B=Natural Landing

 

A recent study by Squadrone et al.(2009) compared running shoes, barefoot running, and running in Vibram Five Fingers. They demonstrated reduced impact forces, shorter ground contact and stride length, but increased stride frequency while running barefoot (and in Vibrams) as compared to running with shoes. This is not unexpected, but shows that running shoes do in fact alter our normal strides. An interesting point is the reduction in stride length but increase in stride frequency. Shoes tend to promote this longer stride at a consequence of ground contact times and frequency. This happens because of changes in feedback signaling, increased likelihood to land on heel stretched out, increased weight, all of which lead to longer times on the ground. It’s interesting to note that elite runners all have short ground contacts and high frequencies (as demonstrated by the often quoted Daniels study of 180 strides per minute).
Tying this to the discussion above on the body controlling things based on sensory information, when running barefoot, there is a higher degree of stiffness in the lower leg. Increased stiffness can result in an increased SSC (stretch shortening cycle) response, resulting in greater force on the subsequent push off (2001). Dalleau et al. demonstrated that pre-activation causing increased stiffness improved Running Economy. In his study, the energy cost of running was related to the stiffness of the lower leg (1998)

Another recent study found that knee flexion torque, knee varus torque, and hip internal rotation torque all were significantly greater in shoes compared to barefoot. What does all of this mean? Potentially, this means more stress on the joints in this area. Jay Dicharry put it best when he said:
“The soft materials in modern running shoes allow a contact style that you would not use barefoot. The foot no longer gets the proprioceptive cues that it gets unshod. The foot naturally accommodates to surfaces rapidly, but a midsole can impair the foot’s ability to react to the ground. This can mute or alter feedback the body gets while running. These factors allow a runner to adopt a gait that causes the elevated forces observed above.”

The one thing that non-barefoot/heel strike proponents use to dismiss midfoot striking/barefoot running is the Achilles tendon. They say, correctly, that the load on the Achilles is higher in midfoot striking runners. The Achilles is meant to take a large load. The problem is we’ve weakened the Achilles through years of wearing shoes with their elevated heels. Essentially, we’ve created the Achilles problem with the shoes meant to prevent it. The Achilles is designed to operate in a rubber band like fashion. . During impact such as the braking or contact phase of running, the achilles tendon stores energy and then subsequent releases that energy via recoil during the take off phase of running. The Achilles, can store and return approximately 35% of its kinetic energy (Ker, 1987). Without this elastic storage and return, the oxygen uptake required would be 30-40% higher! So, in terms of performance why are we trying to minimize the tendonous contribution? It’s like giving away free energy.

Running shoes do not utilize the elastic storage and return as well as barefoot or minimal shoes. More energy is lost with shoes than with barefoot running (Alexander and Bennett, 1989). In addition, in some models of shoes, the arch is not allowed to function like a spring. The arch of the foot can store around 17% of kinetic energy (Ker, 1987). Given these results, its not surprising that running barefoot when compared to running with shoes is more efficient. Several studies have shown a decreased VO2 at the same pace with barefoot running, even when weight is taken into account. This should be no surprise as I mentioned above, without elastic recoil VO2 requirement would be 30-40% higher. Running in a minimal shoe allows for better utilization of this system.

So, the take away message is that shoes change natural mechanics to one that creates mechanical changes that are not optimal for running fast (decreased stride frequency, increased ground contact, decreased stiffness of the system, decreased elastic contribution, and on and on).

Tying it together with elites:
Looking at elite athletes, when racing and training, they generally have higher turnover, minimal ground contact time, and a foot strike that is under their center of gravity. Since the majority of elites exhibit these same characteristics while racing, it makes sense that this is the optimal way to run fast. So, why are we wearing footwear that is designed to increase ground contact, decrease turnover, and promote footstrike out in front of the center of gravity? I have no idea.  (Golden Note: Sounds like an Altra ad to me!)

Conclusion:
In conclusion, I’m not some fanatic saying everyone ditch shoes now. Chances are you’ve been running in shoes for 20+ years. Your bodies done some adapting during that time. You’ve got to gradually change if you want to undue some of the changes.

The purpose of this article wasn’t to talk about the benefits of barefoot running. Instead it was to point out the problems with Running Shoe classification. It’s based on a cushioning/pronation paradigm that simply is not as true as they want us to believe. That paradigm needs to be reevaluated. It’s not founded on good science but rather initial ideas that made sense with no science behind them, but upon further review may not stand up to testing. A recent study found that using the good old shoe classification system that everyone uses, had little influence on injury prevention in a large group of Army Basic Training participants (Knapik, 2009). They concluded that selecting shoes based on arch height (like all major running magazines suggest) is not necessary if injury prevention is the goal. I guess that means the systems broken…

Where do we go and how do we fix it? I have no idea. Sorry, no genius answers here. My inclination is that we aim for letting the foot function how it is meant to function, or at least come up with some shoe that may alter foot mechanics but while still allowing feedback/functionality of the body. The first step is looking at the foundation on which running shoes are built upon, the motion control, stability, and cushioning paradigm. My take is that it needs to be reevaluated. I’m going to end with something I’ve already said, but it’s an important concept to get across:

The body is more complicated and smarter than we give it credit.
The type of shoe and material of the shoe changes impact or stride characteristics NOT because of alignment of the lower leg or because of changes in cushioning. Instead it changes impact and stride characteristics because it alters the sensory feedback. The brain is a wonderful thing.’

If you found this article to be informative, I’d appreciate it If you passed it along.  The goal is to get research based data out there so people can be well informed.
-Steve Magness

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!

lacing_side

The Original Altra Instinct with progressive wide lacing

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.

lacing_front

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!

AmericanFootBinding

Classic American Foot Binding

Nike Pointy
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 somewhat flexible, consider Correct Toes to help re-shape your feet over time. Use them while active, like when walking or driving, for best effect. 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.