28 August 2009

Smiths Sports Shoes disappoint

Over the last few weeks I've visited a few running shoe stores keen to try out a few new shoes and hopefully find the right pair for me. I was keen to try out a several stores as a way of getting a second and third opinion from a suitably qualified (hopefully) running shoe expert.

At each store I've been sure to mention to the sales people that I have had about a year off running as I've tried to get over my foot and shin injuries so they were fully aware of my background and thus better informed to fit me with an appropriate shoe.

Of the three stores I had two good experiences but unfortunately my experience at Smiths Sports Shoes at Mt Eden was not so good. I'll get the bad out of the way first and write a post next time about the good.

Smith Sports Shoes is what I would call a bulk sports shoe discounter which tries to be a specialty running shoe store. They are all set up to provide running gait and video siliconcoach analysis but sadly none of this was offered to this customer and it didn't look like this technology was used in the majority of cases while I was there.

I mentioned to the salesperson that I was interested in a shoe which was suited to a forefoot or mid sole striker as this was a style of running that I was interested in moving towards. The salesperson seem confused by this and looked at me like I had just escaped from a mental institution as if to say 'why would you consider such a thing?'

It seemed that he had never heard of such a running style and despite my explaining the potential benefits , IE more natural style of running in keeping with how we run when in bare feet, he still was very dismissive of the idea.

There was no offering to take a look at my stride and trying to match me to a shoe it was basically take your pick of a few models off the shelf and try them on and see how they feel.

I was fast losing interest by this point. This was the last store on my list to visit and I did all ready have an idea in mind of what shoes had felt good previously. I therefore was not particularly fussed about not being offered a video analysis. I quickly tried on a few pairs( Brooks, New Balance & Nike) before thanking the salesperson for his time.

Smiths is after all a 'sports shoe store', catering to many sports so, while they stocked all the main brands of running shoe, sadly for this potential buyer I didn't feel I got an inadequate level of professionalism or quality running shoe advice to enable me to make an informed decision on what shoes to buy.

I am pleased to say that I did get some much better service from two other specialty running shoe stores and I'll post about those stores next.


23 August 2009

On the hunt of a new pair of running shoes

I've been thinking a lot about buying a new pair of running shoes lately.

My current shoes, a pair of Adidas Supernova, would be two and a half to three years old now though they would still have way less than 500 km 'on the clock' due to my on and off running over that time.

Despite their low mileage I still think its a good idea to update the shoes so I'm starting a fresh when I start running again this spring.

So to try and improve my knowledge I've been reading up large on the topic and now I'm well versed with such terms as flat feet, high arch , medial post , motion control, stability etc. Runners are certainly spoilt for choice these days when it comes to shoes. There is literally a shoe to fit everybody (or foot).

Apparently the key to finding the right shoe for you is to know your foot type. Generally there are three types of feet, determined by the height of your arch. A simple test to see which foot type you are is to stand on a surface with wet feet so that it leaves an impression of your foot. If you can see almost your whole foot then you have a low arch , or flat feet. If the middle of your foot narrows to around half of the foots width the you have a normal arch. If you have a distinctive curve to your foot print from ball to heel, such that very little of the mid sole is visible then you have a high arch.

Most runners have a normal arch height which allows them to generally choose from a wide variety of neutral running shoes offering cushioning or some motion control features for those that slightly over pronate.

Runners with flat feet tend to overprotate due to the low arch lacking the shock absorbing qualities of a normal arch. They tend to need a motion control shoe offering firm support on the inside edge of the shoe to try and correct the over protation.

A high arches will also provide inadequate shock absorption often resulting in under pronation (or supination). A flexible, cushioned shoe which encourages pronation is generally recommended for these runners.

So having done my research (ie the 'wet test') I've found that I have normal feet. Well at least something is normal I thought! The next step was to find a shoe.

An interesting exercise is to go to one of the many running shoe websites and use their shoe finder tool. I did that at Roadrunnersports.com and here's what they came up with for me.

Runningshoes.com cam up with this selection for me.

Some interesting choices there with a notable exclusion being Adidas, which has been my shoe of choice for the last two pairs. Most of the recommendations seem to have me in a stability shoe with some additional medial support to guard against over pronation.

I generally like to try before I buy though so over the past few weeks I've visited several specialist running shoe shops in town to see what they can offer me. I'll post further about my findings shortly.

Until then happy running.


17 August 2009

Extending your Lactate Threshold

I've said before here that I've been using my spare time recently to learn more about the many various training methods there are out there.

Last month I wrote a piece here about the benefits and reasons for including speed workouts in a runners training programme to improve ones VO2 max. This post is about extending your lactate threshold.

Keep in mind that this is going to be a pretty basic in terms of its detail and if you're looking for a high level analysis on the subject then you're not likely to find that here. If anything I'm just blogging about this as a means on keeping an 'on line diary' if you like to record of what I've learnt. I expect many of you will know this stuff like the back of your hand already.

Firstly I'll mention lactic acid. Lactic acid is a byproduct produced by muscles that builds up in our blood stream during intense exercise. Generally the body is able to remove lactic acid from our systems while we exercise.

The lactate threshold (also known as anaerobic threshold) is the point at which, during intense exercise, lactic acid is being produced at a faster rate than the body can remove it, which in turn quickly leads to muscle fatigue and a drop in performance.

So if your goal is to be able to run faster for longer then you need to work on improving your lactate threshold which can be done by including in your training routine specific workouts where you run at your lactate threshold pace for extended periods.

These are commonly known these days I think as tempo workouts where you might warm up with 15 minutes of jogging before picking up the pace to your LT pace for perhaps 30 minutes before slowing to a jog for the last mile or two of your run. Another approach might be to run several 1 -2 mile repeats at LT pace separated by shorter recovery jogs.

This type of workout is best done at the sharpening stage of a programme after you have built a base. Include a tempo workout once a week in your programme.

A good website for calculating VO2 max and LT threshold paces is runningforfitnes.org. Click the link and you can calculate your VO2 max pace appropriate to your age and 10K time. Then you can go further and find your recommended training paces for LT training, recovery runs, interval training etc.


09 August 2009

Sam's Soccer

My six year old, Sam , has been setting the soccer pitch alight this winter featuring weekly on his team's score sheet, often multiple times per game. I was therefore stoked to be asked by his coach if he was 'available' for a rep team to represent our Albany club in a local tournament. Naturally I confirmed he was.

Sam and his coach celebrating a goal during a club game.

We had the tournament today. The intensity levels were certainly a step or two up from what Sam plays each weekend. Today he came up against opposing teams full of talented youngsters.

Sam's team, the Albany All stars, were looking pretty sharp in the Arsenal replica uniform and it was pleasing to see them win their pool after two wins by 4-1 and 4-2. Sam took little while to adjust to the pace of the games only really finding his feet in the second pool game after a wee pep talk from Dad.

The team were the narrowly beaten 2 -1 in a toughly fought semi final. Sam unfortunately only got a few minutes (the games are only 12 minutes each half) game time in the second half of this game as I guess the coach was opting for the strongest five players for the majority of the game.

It was easy to see that even at this age the sports stars of tomorrow really do stand out head and shoulders above the rest. Some of these kids just hate to lose and there were some tears from a few after the semi final lose. I could tell these were genuine tears bought on by the pain of losing, just as I'm sure a many a World Cup or Premier league player has probably shed after losing a final.

One not so pleasant aspect of following childrens sport is the behaviour of some of the parents on the sidelines. At one stage during one of our pool games, three or four fathers were all marching up and down the sideline just barking orders at their children in the opposing team. The same would happen when a player came off the field after a substitution. Sometimes I think we all need to remember the reason why we play sport and that is to have fun. I'm all for encouraging our kids to be winners but they've got to be having fun at the same time.

Sam has one more tournament this season in a few weeks and now that we have had a taste for these age group tournaments I cant wait for more.


01 August 2009

Leg and core strengthening routine for runners

Weight training as a cross training activity for runners is one subject that splits opinion. I've heard it said by some people that the only possible result that could come from weight training is to add unwanted muscle mass and thus become heavier and slower.

On the other hand there are just as many if not more people who recommended weight training as a way of strengthening your muscles and thus ensuring that they are better equipped to withstand the stresses and strains that can come with running.

I was recalling recently the last time I routinely trained with weights, back in my twenties when I would regularly hit the gym four or five times a week mainly to weight train, though I also would do some some cardio work each week too. I do not ever recall suffering from running related lower leg injuries throughout that period.

Then three years ago when I took up running seriously and soon after the injuries started. Could it be possible that one reason I get injured is that I no longer train my legs with weights?

Well acting on the presumption that it could be, I've decided a twice weekly weight training / strengthening routine for my lower body and core can only benefit my running.

Here's what I'm doing;

1. Start with a five minute warm up on the Exercycle to warm up and loosen those leg muscles.

2. One legged squats. These are great for runners because when we run we are always effectively balancing on one leg. Keep the knee in line with your second or third toe, squat to your limit and stand up. The movement should be steady controlled. Build up to 20 or 25 for each leg.

3. Leg extension. Great for building up the muscles around the knee. Try to open your feet as you extend your legs. Knees should remain in line with the feet. Again build up to 20.

3. Lunges. Standing tall, step forward about three feet, drop the rear knee straight to the floor (don't touch the floor), rise again then step back so your feet are together. A variation would be to step forward and the end of each lunge rather than stepping back. Try for 20 on each leg.

4. Leg curls. It's important to also workout the hamstrings so as to avoid muscle imbalances. Simply lift your feet to your butt. Again aim for 20.

I do those four exercises as one large 'super set' in which each exercise is performed one after the other with no rest. I'll do the super set two or three times.

5. Kickbacks. Great for working the glutes which are important for maintaining an efficient running stride. Standing balanced on one leg, kick the other leg straight back in a steady controlled manner. Go for 20 and repeat on the other leg.

6. Clam. Another good exercise for the glutes. Laying on your side, legs together, knees bent, feet up near your butt. Slowly raise the top knee as far as you can and then lower it . The hips should remain motionless with only the glutes doing the work. Build up to 30 on each side.

I will complete exercises five and six as a super set, two or three times.

7. Calf raises. The final leg exercise is calf raises. Stand on a block of timber or a step with your heels hanging off the edge. Lower the heels and raise to your maximum. Build to 20. Two or three sets. For added difficulty try holding some hand weights.

8. Leg raises. A strong core is essential for good running form and one of my favorite exercises is the leg raise. Lie on your back, legs out stretched, slowly raise your legs to about 90 degrees and the lower your feet again though keep them off the ground. Try to keep your lower back pressed against the floor to really feel the abs working and also protect the back. Build up to 20.

9. Front plank. Lie on your front, use your elbows and your toes to support your body. Try and keep your body as straight as possible and hold the pose for up to a minute.

10. Side plank. As above but lie on your side with your elbow supporting your body. Keep your whole body as straight as possible and hold for as long as you can.

I'll do these core exercises as a super set and repeat two or three times.

That completes my strengthening routine for runners.

As I'm not yet running I'm doing this routine twice a week. Most regular runners should only need to, and would probably only find the time, to do this workout once a week, and that's what I'll be doing when I start running again.

Disclaimer: Please note I have no qualifications or training in the area of personal training so please consult your own gym instructor or health professional if you're unsure on whether any of these exercises are right for you.


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