Run fast ... fall down

Run fast ... fall down

Monday, February 21, 2011

The whole gamut of trail running shoes

I thought I should put up a little review of the shoes I run in.
With the recent best selling book Born to Run (amazon link) and the 2010 Nature paper by Daniel Lieberman, minimalist running, and minimalist footwear are very common concepts in the trail running world right now. The basic idea is that if you run barefoot you'll run more like the way humans have evolved to run over the last 10,000 years, and not the way we've resorted to run since ~1970 when marketing of running shoes took off.

However, any running professional (such as a physical therapist, specialized running store salesperson, doctor, or coach) that I've talked with ask to see what type of shoes I run in, and their recommendation is has always been, in my case, standard issue neutral to moderate motion control running shoes. I always seem to get recommended something like Ascics 2160 which are road shoes, somewhat boring, and are precisely the wrong footwear to avoid overuse injury, according to the Harvard group mentioned above.

And if one looks towards the leaders of the ultra running community, we have people like
These two mindsets seem totally opposite, and many other leaders fall directly in the middle. So how is a wannabe ultra runner like me to figure out what philosophy to follow? I suppose the best way to know is to try them all. So I thought I'd give a quick review/my opinion of the shoes I run in. FYI, I mostly run slow, like 11 min/mi on flats and am 6', 145 lbs and wear size 11. I buy shoes on sale so I'm certainly a little behind on the latest, and apologize for reviews of models that are from last year.

Top left: La Sportiva Crosslites, Top Right: Saucony Pro Grid Xodus, 
Bottom Left: Hoka OneOne Mafate, Bottom Right: Vibram Five Fingers.

I'll give my quick opinions on each from most support to least.

Hoka OneOne Mafate review
These shoes are super cushy. They have the biggest sole I've ever seen and only come in gaudy bright neon colors. Be prepared to have thick skin if someone spots you wearing them, you may have to endure Sketchers Shape Ups jokes among others. However, they weigh surprisingly little considering their bulk. I could not find any good reviews of the Hoka OneOnes when I bought them (June of 2010, other than the huge endorsement from Karl Meltzer) and they only seem to be sold at a very select number of stores in the US, however Boulder Running Company stocked them so I dropped >$180 on this pair. I wear 11 in everything else, but needed 11.5 here. Since then, you can find many reviews online, but I'll just give my personal opinion.

I've had them for 8 months now but have been injured or recovering from IT band surgery for most of that period and haven't put a ton of miles on them yet, maybe 70. I'd say these are my go-to shoes for any punishing occasion. I'll wear them in races or long training runs, and even on road runs, as they seem to cause absolutely no discomfort in terms of rubbing, are perfect temperature wise, and take the shock out of every landing. However, my opinion is that they don't emphasize the importance of proper running form as it's easy to overstride without any penalty. So in my attempt to make sense out of the different philosophies of running shoes, I'd say it's best to use Hokas in races or the longest runs where you're trying to build endurance without the pounding, but to use much less shoe to reinforce proper mechanics on day to day runs. 
I hear the next model Bondi B is out now and will hopefully get a pair soon.

Some other reviews of these shoes can be found here:
Jeff Valliere's review
They even have a YouTube channel with some cool videos and reviews - Here you can find a commercial for Hokas that opens with the line "They'll make you sore on the uphills and fly on the downhills" -- Later in the day as this commercial confused me, it occurred to me that they said "soar" not "sore"!!

Saucony Progrid Xodus review
I picked these up as a first move away from the Montrails that I've run in for the past 5 years. I've gone from the Vitesse to the Hardrock, but at some point, I couldn't find the older model that I liked. Several pairs of the newer versions all had some issue with discomfort in the heel causing terrible blisters. I found out that Columbia Sportswear purchased Montrail and made some minor changes to the look of Montrails but it greatly impacted the comfort of them.

My main feelings on the Saucony Progrid Xodus are that they fit great and gave me a new hope that blisters come from problems with shoes, not problems with my feet. Since I've switched from Montrails, I've not had any issues. The Saucony's are hot, maybe because they're black but even running in cold weather on snow, I found my feet to be cooking and I'm generally always cold. The shoes are comfortable though, doctors/coaches that I've shown them to are all satisfied that I've chosen good footwear to avoid problems with my IT bands, they wear well (many miles without breakdown), and have become my screw shoes for winter runs.

La Sportiva Crosslite review
After not feeling like the New Balance MT100s are for me, I wanted a slight step up in terms of support. There was quite a bit of debate on the Boulder Trail Runner list comparing these to the MT100s. The proclaimed highlights are incredible traction, lightweight cushiony feel with little arch support.

My impression is that they have great traction on mud, soft snow, and perhaps rock, but the lugs are too hard and aren't as cush as I'd hoped. They do nothing similar to screws on ice, and I found myself slip-sliding all over the place. Although they claim good cushion with minimal arch support, I'd say the footbed is stiff and has a very uncomfortable feel in the arch, and in the lateral side of the midfoot, akin to some old Salomon XAs that I simply cannot wear. However this issue mostly went away while running in the Sportivas. They offer 1 step up from the MT100s in terms of support but mostly because they feel narrow to me and really hug the foot. It feels somewhat like a shoelace is tied tightly around the middle of the my whole foot. The sole feels hards and thus promotes good mechanics and for that reason I want to continue running in them, and I think they may require a bit of a break-in. I felt pretty good after a longer run that would have me worked in the MT100s.

Vibram Five Fingers review
Obviously these are least supportive "shoe" out of the group I'm describing today. They are widely acclaimed and are certainly a hot topic - videos all over youtube, REI calls them best sellers, etc.
I'm embarrassed to run in them, because of all of this hype. They feel like you're running barefoot, but offer great protection from little rocks or sharps. AND they do make my calves sore after even short jogs. I've yet to run long with these on my feet because they scream "stress fracture" to me for some reason. I find them a little too gimmicky, probably should have saved my money and just done some jogs on a nearby soccer field with my feet naked to achieve the same effect.

Interestingly, 3/4 shoes I mention here are black with gold trim. This must be the "in" color set for trail runners.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Iliotibial band lengthening surgery recovery

Runners all deal with nagging and complaining body parts on occasion. My one issue has always been my IT bands. It first started in ~2003 while trying to ramp up my running mileage. I've cross trained in a lot of ways and very much enjoy hiking, cycling, climbing, etc. but I always return to running. I really only enjoy running on trails often with significant elevation changes. However, with any regular running comes a flare up in less than a month in either leg. The symptoms are classic with fairly intense pain right on the outside of the knee that practically goes away when I stop running. It has never bothered me while cycling.

After running a few ultra marathons, and not being able to do consistent training runs, I decided 2010 was the time to visit Jeremy Rodgers and figure out why I can't shake this syndrome. After several visits and a severely horrible year resulting (in my opinion) from an adverse reaction in both legs to cortisone shots into the bursa under the site of pain, I decided to undergo surgery to lengthen my iliotibial bands by Dave Grauer at Avista in Louisville, CO. I scoured the web for info on surgeries like this and found surprisingly little. I inquired running professionals such as coaches and massage therapists and posted on some forums and got the whole spectrum of advice. I'd tried everything from constant icing (frostbite scars to prove it), not running for months, consulting with massage therapists, physical therapists, and coaches, and completed long periods of directed strengthening, stretching, and foam rolling exercises. However I could not find any satisfactory personal experiences

The surgery involves making a ~1.5 inch incision just above the knee and making many small nicks into band as if you had a taut rope and continued to poke at it with a knife until it lengthened just a little bit. I had both knees done at the same time since they've both been problematic in the past.

Recovery wasn't too bad all things considered.
First 3-4 days: I couldn't really walk around but could get to the bathroom, etc. on my own without crutches. Although I was not allowed to shower or get the wound wet, or even remove the bandage for more than a week.
Next 2 weeks: Basically I had to teach myself how to walk again. It didn't just happen. I had to command my quad to pick up my foot, move it forward, place it down, shift the weight onto that foot and repeat. Foot placement was weird and painful. At the end of this period, I could walk 3-4 city blocks without too much problems. Although stairs presented a pretty big problem, and my knee caps were sore from the swelling.
Next month: Everything continued to heal well, but I was not allowed to run, hike, ski, etc. I think I rode my bike a few times just around town. I started physical therapy at Peak Form going about once a week. I had a pretty good vibe from PT although was a bit disappointed that only 1 of the therapists I'd seen over 5-6 visits was a runner, and got comments like "maybe you weren't made to run".

So after 6 weeks of recovery, my incisions were healed aside from a decent amount of scar tissue that I can't seem to work smooth (comment added a year later, small amount of scar tissue, but not an issue. If I squeeze it, it feels a little more solid than the rest of nearby flesh), and I was able to begin running again. I started with 0.5 mi jogs. In my 4th week of running, I ran 3x during the week (1-2 mi) with a longer hike (5 mi) on the weekend. If you read later posts, I chronicle the recovery with charts of weekly mileage.

My right leg with the scar visible at the bottom of the photo. The left leg scar is even more difficult to see.

I've noticed that I seem to feel looser if I run more often, so have been running consistently running 5 days a week, taking one day off during the week and another on the weekends. I slowly increased to 15 miles a week (1-3 mi, 4x during the week, 2 on a treadmill) and (6-8 mi on Saturday) with Sundays doing something else like cycling.

It's now mid February, and I've run 80 miles cumulatively in 2011 over about 30 runs. This is the most consistent I've even been, mostly because I haven't ever tried running such short runs of 1 mi, for example. I've drastically reduced my running speed on purpose, and work very hard on my form. Most runs are at 11 min/mi pace.

So far, my legs don't feel perfect, but I also haven't had any real cases of IT band pain or anything similar. I have some random aches around the knee areas like still some pain below the patella, and a little pain around the incision site. All things considered, I feel like my knees are mostly fixed and I look forward to a great future of running.

(Another note added about a year later, I often have some small annoyances which go away if I take a week off. I have ghost IT band pain after a run, it feels somewhat like it did in the past, but the next day I can run again and it never hurts during runs. This has mostly taped off throughout the year, and I've been able to mostly quit the stretches, PT exercises etc and run comfortably.)