TRAIL MIX!

The benefits of running off road.

Every runner has one of ‘those friends’. The non-running ones who are completely confused about this whole ‘running thing’ that we do. They just don’t get it. Some mistakenly believe that all races are marathons and ask you questions like “how many miles is this marathon?” or “Are 10Ks harder than 5Ks?”. It’s frustrating having to always explain to  friends and family that all marathons are 26.2 miles, and can be held ANYWHERE, not just Boston or New York City, and that K in races stands for KILOMETERS, so a 10K is twice as LONG as a 5K, not necessarily twice as hard (but it can be). If you live in the USA, you usually have to then explain how many miles a kilometer is.

Yet perhaps the most baffling concept for the non-runner to wrap their heads around is trail-running. Why would someone willingly run off road on rough terrain, up and down hills or mountains, through wilderness and possibly even across a creek or shallow river? It’s all about the benefits!

The Great Outdoors!

The SECOND real race I ever ran when I first started running was the Chobot Challenge 15K Trail run on July 7th, 2019. Back then, it was quite the experience, and I finished.  Today, I run about half of my races on roads, and half on trails. My favorite trail run in the April Foolish at French Creek State Park. My least favorite, NEVER DOING THAT AGAIN was the Halfwit Half Marathon up and down Mt Penn. That race literally brought tears to my eyes, and almost made me give up running altogether. It was the hardest race I ever ran. I prefer to run on road, but I’m a runner and a runner runs! I’m not going to back away from the occasional trail run, I just wouldn’t want to ONLY run trails.

The benefits of trail running are two-fold, both  mental and physical.

There is a beauty to being out in nature that has a soothing effect on the mind. Urbanites trapped in their concrete jungles miss out on the spacious skies, the verdant forest trails, and the sounds of water flowing over the rocks of a nearby river.

The further away from the city you get, the less noise pollution from cars and blasting stereos. The music in the air is birdsong .

There is something to be said about a beautiful mountain lake unspoiled by man because there’s no road to drive there.  You have to get there by foot because it’s miles from the nearest road.

There is something very satisfying in running up a snow-covered mountain and seeing a serene winter landscape of undisturbed snow.

And there is something very satisfying to the spirit in knowing  that wondrous sights like these belong to you and the small percentage of the population that understands that life is meant to be lived firsthand, and that the real world is the one outside your window.  

 A leg to stand on!

Running is good for you! The same non-runner friends who don’t understand why you run will also tell you that it’s bad for your knees, bad for your heart,  bad for your feet, etc! Poppycock! There are literally hundreds of books on the benefits of running and thousands of scientific studies proving those naysayers wrong.  We were born to run!

There are many muscles, tendons, ligaments,  and nerves in the human leg.

The muscles  are:

 Gluteus minimus and medius, gluteus maximus, Iliac crest, adductor magnus, , semitendinosus, biceps femoris, gracilis, semimembranosus, plantaris, sartoruis, gastrocnemius, soleus.

The tendons  are:

Iliotibial tract (IT BAND), plantaris, fleor digitorm longus, medial malleolus, fibularis longus , flexor hallucis longus, fiblaris longus, fibularis brevis.

The ligaments are:

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), lateral collateral ligament (LCL).

The nerves are:

Tibial, and the common fibular.

Don’t even get me started on the foot.

Running on a flat paved surface such as a track or street works different muscle groups and tendons differently than running on a trail. So the physical benefits of trail running is that you are working leg muscles more, and improving balance by running on uneven surfaces.

When running the gluteus maximus, the gluteus minimus and medius  form what is known as the posterior chain, which allows hip extention. Now running uphill will work those glutes  harder, and make them stronger in the process. Would you rather have buns of steel to run up mountains , or a lead bottom  anchoring you to the couch so that you can become a mountain?

Hilly terrain works your calves, and strong calves mean faster propulsion. 

When you run trails, you straighten your tendons and ligaments because the constant need to stabilize your ankles, knees and hip joints works your connective tissues with every uneven step you take. The more you work these, these stronger they become and the less prone to injury. Proof that running is GOOD for maintaining knee health! Always remember that if you are not actively strengthening  your body, you are actively weakening your body. No get out there and hit the trail!    

You can find me at these upcoming races:

June 2021

Third Thirsty Thursday   5K Race Series – Race 3/7 June 17 @7:00 pm Reading PA

Lebanon Root Beer Half Marathon June 20 @ 7:00 am Lebanon PA

Be sure to check back  on June 27th for another article.

As always, I wish you success and happiness!

FOOLISH RUNNING!

Once more, with feeling!

Today is Sunday April 25th, 2021. I am in Gettysburg running the half-marathon, bib#1305.  I consider the last Sunday in April to be my ‘runnerversary’, or the anniversary of my first-ever race 2 years ago. That was the BEAT BEETHOVEN 5K  on April 28th, 2019. The race was held at Alvernia Universary and timed by Pretzel City Sports.  My original intent in 2020 was to run all the races I ran in 2019 to see if I improved, but all of the races I ran that first year either were cancelled or went virtual. As I begin to enter my third year as a runner, there have only been 3 courses that I have gotten to do a re-run on. Today in Gettysburg will be my third re-run of a previous course that I have run in the past. Although typically held the last Sunday in April, The 2020 Gettysburg Blue Grey Half Marathon was postponed to October 18th. I ran 2:57:56.8 and my  bib was #883. Hopefully I will beat that time today, but an insane workload at my day job has seriously impacted my training and recovery days.

The OTHER two courses I had the privilege of running again this month were the Third Thirsty Thursday 5K course at the Thun trail in Reading PA and the 1st Annual April Foolish 10 Hour Endurance Trail Run in French Creek State Park (both are Pretzel City Sports events). My time for the April 15th TTT 5K was just about 4.6 minutes shy of my 33:22 PR, but I have six more attempts this rear since this is a monthly race held the 3rd Thursday of each month from April till October.

Last Sunday April 18th, 2021 was the 1st Annual April Foolish 10 Hour Endurance Trail Run. Now you might be puzzled on how a person can run a FIRST ANNUAL race for the second time, but that takes a little explaining. Let’s start by saying that I ran FOOLISH before it was FOOLISH!

In 2020 many races were canceled, postponed, relocated, or even made virtual. I spent 2020 training very hard for the 2020 Philly Marathon which never happened. Pretzel City Sports has an annual  LABOR PAIN 12 Hour Endurance Trail Run normally held the Sunday before Labor Day on Mt Penn. In 2020, the city of Reading refused to grant a permit that year, so the race was moved to a temporary location in French Creek State Park, changed to a 10 hour race, and re-scheduled to  Sunday November 22nd, 2020. By sheer co-incidence this was the exact same date as the cancelled 2020 Philly Marathon, so I signed up. This was my first, only, and LAST LABOR PAIN. I am usually out of state the tradition weekend it is held, and I have run up Mt Penn enough times to know when to quit. It may be a small mountain, but it has some treacherous climbs best left for skilled trail runners. If Chilly Cheeks 10K didn’t ram that point home, the Half-wit Half Marathon up and down Mt Penn nailed that notice to my door with a railroad spike!

The alternate course and location for the 2020 LABOR PAIN proved to be a hit with local runners who found it easier, but still challenging. As a result, this alternate course became a new race in its own right, and The ‘FIRST’  (kinda, sorta, in a way….) Annual April Foolish Endurance Trail Run was born! 

I have run less than a dozen trail runs, but this is my favorite trail course. Both of my two marathons were run on this course.    

My first attempt last year resulted in a injury. I hit the ground so hard at the 25 mile point so hard that I triggered the emergency alert on my Garmin 945 Forerunner.

My IT band painfully informed me that my attempt at a 50K was over, but I could still limp back and earn my first marathon which I did. I had a few cuts, my legs were covered with bruises, and it took me over a hour to limp that last mile, but I did it! My awesome friends waited for me and helped get me and my gear to my car.

Stephanie and Justin Kershner, Greg Aramptzis, and myself.

 I was unable to walk for two days after the race, but I mended fast and was even able to run a 15K trail run two weeks later.   

Now for my second attempt at this course I had one goal. DO NOT GET HURT! I still wanted a 50K ultra, but I definitely wanted to run this race pain-free. I paced myself entirely differently than I did the first time I did this course. 

The course is basically a 4 mile loop on the trails around Hopewell Lake. At about the 3 mile point, there is a picnic area where you can set up camp and restock your gels, snacks, and drinks, or take a rest between loops if needed.  

At about the 3.7 mile mark, there was this hellacious mud pit that was 3-4 inches deep which threatened to steal my shoes!

Half of the course was flat or paved.  About one third was uphill. There was a series of steps to run down near the dam.

There was ONE long paved downhill section of nearly a half mile, which you only had to go back up if you were doing a partial out-and-back milestone distance.

The rest was true trail running territory, rocks the size of baseballs, twisted roots of evil, thorn bushes, etc.

Again this was a TEN HOUR endurance race, however many times you decide to run the loop was up to you, but if you couldn’t complete the final lap of the day within the TEN HOUR TIME LIMIT, based upon prior lap times,  race director Ron Horn would not allow you to continue beyond 10 hours, no exceptions.  If you were going for a milestone distance such as MARATHON, 50K or 50 MILES, there were signs posted on trees with instructions to turn back at that partial point of the lap and run back to the start/finish line. 

It sounds a little complicated, but it’s really not. Here’s an example for the marathon distance which is what I ended up doing, again, just injury free this time. You run six laps of 4 miles each, for a total of 24 miles, next you run a partial 7th lap running out 1.1 miles to the turn-back sign. From that sign, you run the 1.1 miles back the way you just came, giving you the final 2.2 mile distance needed for the 26.2 mile marathon goal. Simple huh?  

And you don’t have to run the entire ten hours either. If you just want to run 4 or 5 loops and go home, that’s ok. This is YOU vs YOU. You decided when enough was enough. Of course, there always are runners who are there to compete and try to get the next course distance record.  In 2020, the distance records were held by M: Andrew Simpson – 72 miles in 9:49:51 and F: Dixie Bonner 52 miles in 9:34:37 and those records still stand today.

Of the 228 runners of this race, 17 including my friend Greg Arampatzis ran distances of 50 miles or more. 141 ran 50K or more including my friend Justin Kershner. I was one of 22 people who opted for the marathon. I really wanted the 50K, but I wanted to not get hurt more. I took it slow and steady, running at top speed only on flat or paved surfaces.  

My official time was  9:35:43 exactly 14 minutes slower than last year’s 9:21:43. I’ll take that.  Marathon distance is no joke, and trail running is not for the faint hearted.  I heard that one runner took off at top speed early in the race, and received an injury that required a hospital trip.  There is nothing wrong with pushing yourself way out of your comfort zone, but it does come with risks. A comfort zone is a nice safe place, but nothing grows there, and you will never know what you are capable of accomplishing if you refuse to take it to the limit. In 1994 TLC released a song titled Waterfalls which had the line “Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to…”  Let me tell you from personal experience that that is a load of crap advice fit for losers! The same people who don’t chase waterfalls, don’t run marathons!

You can find me at these upcoming races:

May 2021

PA Dutch Half May 2 @ 7:00 am Marietta, PA 17547

Chobot Challenge 15k Trail Run May 16 @ 9:00 am Rustic Park, Birdsboro, PA 19508

Third Thirsty Thursday   5K Race Series – Race 2/7 May 20 @7:00 pm Reading PA (in-person race day sign up only)

Be sure to check back in two weeks on May 9th for another article.

As always, I wish you success and happiness!

JUST RUN WITH IT!

If the shoe fits…

(part one of a two-part series on footwear)

Sneakers is an American word used to describe soft rubber-soled athletic shoes. They have been around since the mid to late 1800s and go by many names. In England, they are referred to as trainers or joggers. Other names include: Tennis shoes, running shoes, runners, track shoes, sports shoes, gym shoes, kicks, and a plethora of other slang terms relating to usage, style, or manufacturers. Sneakers are so ubiquitous that they have crossed the divide from athletic usage to everyday casual footwear, and  the dreaded fashion sneaker.     

Just as people come in all shapes and sizes, so do sneakers. Just as all people are not runners, all sneakers are not running shoes. You should NOT be running in fashion sneakers. So if you’re going out for a run (an ACTUAL run, not a metaphorical one), or you’re gearing up for a race,  leave the Chuck Taylors and Vans® at home.

“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black.”

Henry Ford

It’s probably easier to pick out a car than it is to pick out running shoes. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, not all sneakers are running shoes, but all running shoes are sneakers, so for the remainder of this article, when the words sneaker or shoe appears, it is specifically referring to running shoes.

Just as there are many auto manufacturers, makes, models, and colors, the same holds true for sneakers. The list that follows is by no means exhaustive, but it was exhausting to compile.  (If I missed any popular ones, let me know in the comments)

Adidas.  Allbirds. Altra.  APL.  ASICS.  Brooks. FILA.  HOKA. Inov-8. Karhu. La Sportiva. Mizuno. Merrill. New Balance. Newton Running . Nike.  Puma. Reebok. Salomon. Saucony . Sketchers. Under Armor. Veja. VJ Shoes . Xero Shoes.

There are high end brands, and low end ones.  A sneaker does not have to cost an arm and a leg to be good, and sometimes the extra bucks are just paying for the company logo.

Brand loyalty will lock you into a particular company with shoes faster than you can say ‘RUNNERS, READY’. And sometimes, you will have a very limited color choice in that style. You may have a strong desire to own a particular brand, only to discover that they don’t fit your feet properly. Running is a very individual sport and everyone’s foot is different. Small, large, narrow, or wide all play their part as to what shoe is best for your individual foot. Just because your BFF running partner wears the latest from Saucony, doesn’t mean that they make it in your size.

When it comes to buying sneakers, you really have to do your homework, and you can’t buy cut-rate. Stick to well known brands and get your shoes fitted at a shoe store, one where they specialize in running shoes like Fleet Feet does.

Most quality running shoes will set you back about $150. Do NOT go to a place like a department store and buy  $20 sneakers. You get what you pay for. Before I actually committed to becoming a runner, I didn’t know any better. When you’re a newbie, sneakers are sneakers. I purchased a pair of no name running shoes in 2018 which I barely ever wore before I got my Nikes.  I was on vacation August 24th 2019 and I had ONLY the ‘no-names’ with me, so I decided one morning to go for a run on the boardwalk in Ocean City MD. This happened:

Yep. I ran so fast that my sole left my body.

So two lessons learned that day:

  • NEVER EVER EVER buy cheap no-name, or counterfeit running shoes.
  • ALWAYS have two to three pairs of running shoes in rotation, and a spare pair with you in your gym bag.

When  you do get around to shopping for your shoes, don’t fret about the color or obsess over a brand and style.      

There are only two real considerations you should be concerned with.

  1. What surface are you running on? Road, or trail. Some brands have both types, others specialize, but you need trail shoes for trails, and road shoes for roads. They are made different for a very good reason!
  2. How do they feel on your feet. It doesn’t matter if they’re the prettiest pink shoes you’ve ever seen, and all the girls in track have them. It doesn’t matter if your hero who took the Gold at the Olympics wears them. If they don’t fit, and they hurt YOUR feet, they’re worthless. And when you do go to buy shoes, always wear the same type of socks that you usually wear when you run, because you want these shoes to fit perfectly when you hit the road. Never wear brand new shoes for a race, or a long run. It takes five to ten miles to break-in new sneakers so take them out for two or three 5K training runs before you race with them.

BE PREPARED to spend about $150. You might get lucky and catch a sale, or a closeout on last year’s model, but don’t get your hopes up.

BUT EVERYONE WEARS THEM
Look , I understand that you may love your special brand, and that’s wonderful. My road race sneakers are my Nike Initiator running shoes, and for trails I don my  Inov-8 X-Talon 200 trail shoes.  I always wear MudGear brand socks.

The reality is, when it comes to sneakers, most Olympic runners wear Nike. Does it mean you should wear Nike? Not at all. I wear these particular shoes because I have an odd size foot, and finding shoes that fit me is a challenge.  If you find a brand that appeals to you, run with it! The only wrong running shoes are cheaply made no-names. If that’s ALL you can really afford, run with it. It’s better to run with inexpensive (but inferior) shoes than to not run at all. Just buy the sneakers you can afford without breaking your budget.

As for why elite runners chose Nike more than any other brand, the answer is simple. Nike is courting these athletes and seeking endorsements, while the athletes in turn are looking for sponsorships to pay for their training costs. For professional athletes and corporations, it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Plus if everyone is wearing the exact same shoe at the Olympics, They’re all competing on a level playing field.  The moment  someone breaks the trend for something ‘new’, everyone cries foul!

The  Nike ‘Alphafly’ prototype shoes worn by Eliud Kipchoge when he became the first athlete to run a marathon in under two hours in October 2019 have now been banned.

In 2019, 31 of the 36 podium positions in the six world marathon majors were won by elite athletes wearing Nike Vaporfly, as reported by the Guardian.

According to Runnersworld, at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials, 404 of the 565 finishers wore Nikes.

Vaporflys have not been banned, but Nike must adhere to strict new guidelines. Critics state that these shoes which have thick, foam soles and carbon-fibre plates to improve speed give the wearers an unfair advantage during competition, but again, if all the athletes wear them no one can complain.

As of this writing, a pair of men’s  Nike Vaporflys cost about $425 depending on size and style. No, I’m not planning on buying a pair. I would never spend THAT MUCH on a pair of running shoes, plus Amazon doesn’t have them in my size.  

All good things must end
Remember the car buying analogy I made at the beginning? Just as car manufactures retire a certain style and replace it with a new model, the same applies to sneakers. The new model offered by your favorite brand might not fit the same or feel as comfortable as the old style of the same shoe. I’ve heard many a runner moan over the changes made to a specific shoe that they felt was ‘perfect’. The reason manufactures do this  is planned obsolescence.  The shoe must wear out after so much usage, and styles get changed and updated to keep the customers coming back to try the latest model.  If a particular brand and model feel AMAZING, buy two or three extra pairs and stockpile them as soon as possible. I am down to my last brand new pair of Nike Initiator running shoes, and I my ONLY Inov-8 X-Talon 200 trail shoes.

These are no longer in production, and as soon as they wear out, I’m going to have to find new sneakers that make my feel ‘happy’.

Running shoes last about 300 to 500 miles depending on the runner’s weight and running style.  If you have an uneven gait, and you get edge wear, or on the heal, your sneakers will not last as long.  Uneven sole wear will kill your shoes.

Also the more you weigh, the heavier you pound the pavement. A 250lb male will wear out his shoes faster than a 99lb female even if they both run identical distances on the same trails with the same frequency.  It’s not ‘fat shaming’, it’s science. Just another reason why it’s tough to be a Clydesdale. (But Clydesdales ARE tough!)

Lastly clean your sneakers regularly, spraying the interiors with a sneaker spray to kill bacteria and mold which can form in dark, damp areas of your shoe.

If you have additional running tips and tricks, please leave a comment. If you are local to me, you can find me at these upcoming races:

March 2021

Ugly Mudder 10k Trail Race March 7 @ 10:00 am Reading PA

Shiver by the River 10K March 14 @ 10:00 am Muhlenberg, PA

April 2021

Shiver by the River 10K April 11 @ 10:00 am Muhlenberg, PA

Third Thirsty Thursday   5K Race Series – Race 1/7 April 15 @7:00 pm Reading PA

April Foolish 10 Hour Endurance Trail Run April 18 @ 9:00 am – 7:00 pm Elverson, PA 19520

Be sure to check back in two weeks for part two of this series on running shoes, The Bare Facts.

As always, I wish you success and happiness!