Monday, June 8, 2009

Are modern-day running shoes a con job? / Training/taper week 6/1-6/7

With the Mohican Trail 100 just around the corner (June 20-21), the goal this week was to reduce my mileage 10-15 percent from the previous week's 100.11 miles, while maintaining some good quality in my running--the rationale being that I need some rest and recovery.

Mission almost accomplished. I ended the week with 83.2 miles--a 17 percent drop. I'd have gotten to 90 pretty easily but time was limited on Saturday morning--my long run day--due to some family scheduling conflicts. Anyway, at this late stage, there's very little I can do to be better prepared and lots I can do (namely overtrain) to be less prepared.

The week saw two excellent hill workouts. On Wednesday, I ran three hard repeats on a stretch of Chagrin Boulevard, followed by a hard effort up the notorious Main Street hill in the Chagrin Falls village, for a total of 9.1 miles on a very hilly course. On Saturday morning, with only 90 minutes to work with, I ran down to South Chagrin Reservation and proceeded to do an out-back-out on a 1.3-mile stretch with four big hills. I pretty much hammered this stretch all three times, and then ran home for a total effort of 12 solo miles followed by 4 more solo miles that night.

The next day (Sunday) with my hamstrings and right groin still sore from the previous day's hill workout, I completed 14 miles at easy pace with the Cleveland Southeast Running Club. Sunday's 14 miles marked the end of my first taper week and end of high mileage going into the Mohican 100. From here it's low mileage, rest and recovery.

Total miles for week: 83.2
Total miles for month: 83.2
Total miles for year: 1,757.02


I can't help but try to gauge my Mohican 100 conditioning this year versus last year. Comparing the numbers over an identical stretch of time from February to June in both 2008 and 2009, here's what comes out:
  • Total miles 2008 - 1,503
  • Total miles 2009 - 1468 (includes a projected 55 miles for this coming week)
  • Average miles/week 2008 - 83.5
  • Average miles/week 2009 - 81.5
  • Total number of runs 2008 - 185
  • Total number of runs 2009 - 158
  • 100-mile weeks 2008 - 7
  • 100-mile weeks 2009 - 4
  • 90-mile weeks 2008 - 1
  • 90-mile weeks 2009 - 2
  • 80-mile weeks 2008 - 1
  • 80-mile weeks 2009 - 6
  • Three highest-mileage days 2008 - 24.4, 28.5 and 26.2
  • Three highest-mileage days 2009 - 31.1, 31.1 and 26.2
Based on those numbers, the 2008 me would appear to be in better shape than the 2009 me. But there are two huge factors from 2008 that could well mean the 2009 me is better prepared for Mohican. Last year at this time I was getting NO sleep and we were stressed to the max caring for Noah who was one-month-old and afflicted with severe reflux. This year Noah has for the most part been a happy, healthy little guy (except for a few ear infections) and sleep has been a little more plentiful, though still not abundant. I'm probably better off because of the extra sleep and less stress. Also, unlike last year, I now have experience on the entire Mohican 100 course and experience is priceless. We'll see what happens on race day.


Running barefooted, Abebe Bikila captured the gold medal in the marathon at the 1960 Olympic games in Rome with a then-record 2:15:16.

I'm more than half-way through Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Although I wouldn't put Born to Run in the same class as To the Edge by Kirk Johnson (which in my opinion is the greatest book about ultrarunning ever written), it is nonetheless a pretty good read and has some very interesting chapters on the history of ultrarunning. I especially liked the section on the legendary Ann Trason, who was the top woman at the Western States 100 like 13 or 14 times. McDougall writes of the famous Trason/Tarahumara battle at the 1994 Leadville 100. Trason was leading through 80 miles or so and was then passed out of no where by a Tarahumara, still setting a new women's record of 18:03. Trason was something else--super tough, intense and determined.

Here Bikila is nearing the finish line. This is a very famous photo and one of my all-time favorites. The drama is palpable.

I've also enjoyed some of the stories McDougall tells of the runners participating in the Copper Canyon 50--Scott Jurek, Jenn Shelton, Billy "Bonehead" Barnett, "Barefoot" Ted and others. Although entertaining and funny, some of these stories are pretty over-the-top and at times I wonder if they really water down the quality of McDougall's book. McDougall is trying to develop his characters--and I'm all for character development--but do I really need to know the life story of Barefoot Ted?

McDougall's book is one part circus and one part seriously thought-provoking. He's gotten me thinking about running shoes and whether they really do what the runner needs--which is promote a natural stride while protecting the feet. With my running shoes, I heel-strike and over-stride mostly because my shoes allow me to run with semi-flawed form. Without my shoes and with just bare feet, my form is nearly flawless as my feet hit the ground perfectly in line with my body. With just bare feet, you can't heel-strike because then you'd break your heels. Because barefooted running requires perfect form, many runners who go shoeless have avoided injuries that previously plagued them when they wore running shoes.

This all begs the question: Are we meant to run barefooted? I don't think so. I think the human foot needs protection. I just look at my trail shoes and I see scuff marks, torn mesh, etc. and that would be my feet without my shoes. The real questions are:
  • How much protection do our feet need?
  • Where do we need this protection?
  • Can we have both while running with perfect form?
  • Can the running shoe deliver on all of this?
Food for thought.

Onward and upward!

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