Thursday, February 24, 2011

SHOES!!! Natural v. Minimal v. Barefoot v. Traditional.

As the flames of the barefoot/minimalist running "revolution" continue to blaze, giving rise to a plethora of new shoe options, runners are left scratching their heads in confusion. Team Sports Bistro's Ryan Heisler, a connoisseur in the shoe industry, discusses the merits and flaws of the popular shoe fits on the market.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 18 months, you've probably heard quite a bit about running barefoot, and the advantages it has for the body. How we were born to run barefoot, and how shoes are the enemy of your feet.

There's just one small problem with this theory: it's wrong.

The running barefoot crowd doesn't seem to realize that we were not made for such wondrous objects like pavement or concrete, nor does it account for such sharp objects that tend to litter a large city's landscape. Catastrophic foot injuries are on the rise, including stress fractures of the metatarsals, ruptured plantar fascii, and Achilles tendonitis, to name a few.

But this is not to say that the technique of running barefoot is a bad thing. Incorporating light barefoot work into your running repertoire helps to develop a shorter, more efficient stride, and can help teach you to be lighter upon your feet. The thing is to incorporate this technique into your everyday running shoe. So how do you go about manufacturing such a technique into your training shoes?

The simple answer is, to steal Nike's thunder: just do it. Remember that your shoes are dumb objects. They can't tell your body how to move through the gait cycle, and they can't dictate how you will land in your footwear. So the idea that you should be going out and buying different shoes right out of the gate (as advocated in this book) is absurd at best, and downright dangerous at worst.

How can it be dangerous? Well, let's think about this as if you have been happily heel-striking your way through miserable miles. You've been transmitting the majority of the shock through initial impact through the heel, which brings that up through to the upper part of the leg, causing more strain on the knee and quadriceps. As you start to move towards midfoot, the Achilles' begins to lengthen slightly, and the strain begins to be placed on the calf. You then utilize this muscular grouping through the rest of the gait cycle. So simply, you've got two different groupings taking care of the three phases of the gait cycle: heel/knees/quads for the initial impact, then calf/Achilles/foot for the transition and propulsive phases.

When you midfoot strike, though, you're changing the emphasis to more of the latter, and a lot less of the former. Much like the first few weeks when you hit the gym, you'll be sore as all hell. The problem that seems to be coming up, though, is too much emphasis on the Achilles/calf. This usually happens because people are landing too far forward on the foot, avoiding the heel entirely. We're designed to use both systems; why else would we have them?

As such, there are four main categories of footwear on the market. It doesn't help that a lot of the companies that are making shoes don't seem to be able to come to a consensus as to what to call it all. So, I'll do them a favor, and do it for them.

Natural: Natural running shoes are not necessarily minimalistic running shoes. Instead, natural running shoes attempt to put your foot into a similar position as if it were barefoot. However, as covered above, most of us do not have the bone density to be running on pavement every day barefoot. As this is the case, these shoes tend to have cushioning along the same lines as a traditional training shoe. Look for less heel-toe drop in the shoe (under 6 mm, give or take), but plenty of substantial cushioning to protect the foot against the elements. Who it's for: runners who have converted to a midfoot strike with no issues; former track runners who have maintained a forward technique; neutral runners looking for a true "flat" for racing. Examples: Saucony ProGrid Kinvara, Newton Gravity, New Balance Road Minimus (available 3/1/11).

Minimal: Minimal running shoes are merely stripping away at the cushioning underneath the foot. They are trying to providing much more feedback as to the surface you are on. Some would advocate that this teaches you to be lighter on the foot. Your results may vary, but my experience is that these are for people that don't like much shoe underneath them AND have a pretty good bone density. A lot of minimal shoes will still have a pretty high heel-toe drop, though, and will let you land on your heel if you decide to. This is where most "racing flats" these days fall. Who it's for: runners seeking as much road feel as possible; runners seeking a short-distance racer; a runner looking for a speedwork shoe. Examples: New Balance MT101, Brooks T6 Racer, Nike LunaRacer, Nike Free Run.

Barefoot: Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nothing going on under the foot outside of maybe 3-4mm of foam. There's really only two things that fit into this category, no matter what shoe companies will try and tell you. Most people will never be able to use these as their primary footwear solution; however, again, results can and will vary depending on body weight, surfaces used, impact force generated while running, etc. Who it's for: someone looking to begin incorporating barefoot technique into their repertoire, but want something to actually protect the foot in the process from sharp objects; trail runners.Examples: Vibram Five Fingers (KSO/Sprint/Flow for off-road; Bikilafor on road), Merrell Barefoot Collection

Traditional: Big old wedge shape here. Not that it's a bad thing, but will tolerate higher load-stresses on the heel. You can still wind up getting relatively lightweight here as well, but not quite to the same degrees as the categories listed above. Remember, though, that weight only matters when your foot is working efficiently. If in this category, it'll be imperative to get fitted for the correct amount of pronation control (such as this fine-fitting institution). Oversupporting the foot can be just as poor as undersupporting it. Who it's for: heel-strikers; midfoot/forefoot strikers who are running into Achilles and calf issues; those who don't want to change how they run period. Examples (ranging from least pronation control to most): Brooks Launch, Mizuno Wave Rider 14, Saucony ProGrid Guide 4, Brooks Adrenaline GTS 11

So, armed with this information, where do you go now? Start with the light barefoot work and see where it takes you. Listen to what your body is telling you; it will give you the keys as to which of these four categories you will best fit into.

And remember, have fun out there!

Ryan Heisler has worked in the running industry for 5 years, and currently works for Maine Running Company in Portland, ME. He has helped thousands of people via footwear and running technique. Ryan is also planning on earning his USAT Level I Coaching certification. He is training for two half-iron distance triathlons this summer. His musings on training, footwear, and other rantings can be found on his blog, Crashing the Boards ( and Twitter (@rrheisler).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Introducing Team Sports Bistro 2011...

Sports Bistro is proud to officially present our sponsored athletes for the 2011 season. These committed athletes have amassed an impressive list of strong finishes across an array of endurance sports endeavors. Through their excellence, they've demonstrated they understand how important it is to
"Fuel Smarter, Play Harder".

Good luck on an amazing 2011 endurance sports season!

Paul Aldeguer - Overland Park, KS
Chris Anderson - Chicago, IL
David Callahan - Nashville, TN
Donald Chapman - Lawrenceville, GA
Matty Cusack - Spokane, WA
Tina Eakin - Huntsville, AL
Carl Elgin - Ann Arbor, MI
Britta English - Indianapolis, IN
Ryan Heisler - Portland, ME
Megan Marion - Tacoma, WA
Ryan Ottem - Winsor, CA
Stephen Pedone - South Elgin, IL
Ben Pulley - Winston Salem, NC
Richard Straub - Northville, MI
Drew Streip - Chattanooga, TN
Sarun Teeravechyan - Chicago, IL
Laurie Timko - South River, NJ
Rob Timko - South River, NJ

For more info on Team Sports Bistro, visit Sports Bistro's "coaching" page:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Early Season Sports Nutrition

By Mike

I can't believe we're already into the second half of February -- the year has been flying by. As I ramp up my training volume for the 2011 season I wanted to share some thoughts about early season sports nutrition for those of you in the same boat as me.
  • Diet Keep calorie consumption in line with your energy expenditure. Most of you will likely need to increase your intake but don't over do it. Stick with whole foods and regular meals and reintroduce sports nutrition gradually. Stay away from sugary foods or simple sugars as they may "train" your body to be a "carb burner" vs "fat burner."
  • Hydration Make sure you hydrate - cold winter weather can dehydrate you just as fast as hot / humid weather. You'll be surprised how much water you'll lose just from heavy breathing in the cold. Your body's natural thirst mechanisms may not function as well in cold weather which could further compound the hydration problem)
  • Sports Nutrition - Hydration / Electrolytes Start with electrolytes first (this goes with the above point on hydration) Hammer Endurolytes, SaltStick, and Succeed! S Caps are good options. Take these before and during your workouts lasting longer than 1 hr. If you want a sports drink try something like nuun for the early season workouts.
  • Sports Nutrition - Recovery / Post Workout Introduce recovery drinks (e.g. Fluid Recovery, Recoverite, Hammer Whey, Gu Recovery Brew) into your post workout routine, especially after your tough and challenging workouts.
  • Sports Nutrition - During Workout Try to delay using high carb fuel sources like Gu Gel, Clif Shot Bloks, Hammer HEED, PowerBar Gel until you get to the point where your workouts become longer and more intense. This will train your body to rely on fat stores for energy. Challenge yourself to do longer and longer workouts without the carbs. Your performance will suffer but the early season is not about performance -- it's about efficiency! Eventually you will need to use the gels, energy chews, and sports drinks during your workouts but dedicate at least a month of solid training with little to no use.
Keep in mind the rules change slightly as you get deeper into your training plan and especially as you start preparing for races. Take a look at the article on Nutrition Periodization for Triathletes for some more tips for the full year.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

New nuun flavors forthcoming!

I'm actually super excited about this: Nuun  is finally releasing new flavors!  I like the lemon+lime and all, but I'm excited to mix it up.  Here's the new lineup, coming in April (as eloquently described by nuun):
  • Lemon Tea:  The satisfying palate of tea, mixed with the just right amount of lemon and sweet. A refreshing alternative to high calorie drinks, it’s chock full of balanced electrolytes and nice little zing of caffeine
  • Fruit Punch: a fruit medley with a Nuun twist. Subtle berry and fruit notes hydrate with that clean Nuun finish)
  • Tropical:  an orchestra of mango, pineapple and coconut flavors flirt with the palate while hydrating the body
  • Grape:  the Nuun interpretation of grape – subtle and smooth. Crisp like white grapes and packed with electrolytes
  • Strawberry Lemonade:  ideal for hydrating under that hot sun, strawberry lemonade finds the perfect balance between a sweet strawberry and ice-cold lemonade - minus the sugary mess
I think the Strawberry Lemonade sounds the best and can't wait to try it.

For the uninitiated, nuun is an electrolyte tablet you can throw into a water or sports drink bottle.  With no carbs, it's light and refreshing and good for when you need some extra hydration without the sugar or calories of regular sports drink.  It's what I take on my offseason trainer rides and when I am trying to stay hydrated throughout the day.

First Runs of the Year

By Mike

Last week (Saturday) I had my first run of 2011. I've been doing trainer rides just fine but it's been very tough to get out and run due to the weather conditions. I ran for about 4-5 miles last Saturday and it felt quite awkward. Everything starting hurting and aching. Getting back into training or a specific type of training (running in my case) after a long break is always tough.

The last 9 days or so have been good though. They've consisted of 4 runs (4.5, 2, 2, 6.5 mi), 2 gym workouts (mostly legs and core), two trainer rides (1hr each), and a day of snowboarding. Today's 6.5 mile run felt quite good. It was slow but it I didn't feel any randoms aches. Yesterday's snowboarding session felt pretty good too - my legs felt quite strong considering it was my first day out - perhaps a credit to some of my other cross training activities.

It was also interesting to see many people taking Gu Gel on the slopes. I think there may have been someone giving them out because the people taking them seemed confused on how to eat them. Whereas a sports nutrition veteran would likely have finished a packet in 5 seconds, this one particular person was taking a good 3-4 minutes and I don't even think he managed to eat the whole thing. Still it's interesting to see the idea of winter sports nutrition start to take off; I think it's long over due.

So despite a slow start in January, February is starting off well. It's also time I make some final plans for the season. I'm still planning on an early season (April-May) marathon but that may change. My big race of the 2011 season is likely to be a Half-Iron race again but I am not sure which one I'll do or where. Right now I'm thinking about breaking 3:10 on a marathon, ~1:26 on a half-marathon, some new PRs on 5-10K races, and going well under a 5:00 on a Half-Iron. I'll likely have firmer plans in the next 30 days.