Thursday, May 5, 2022

Running Faster but Gait's A Disaster

In other words, I'm limping
In my April 14 post, I wrote about the way my blood pressure medicine was negatively affecting my running performance. A change in dosage made such a difference that I'm now running about 2 minutes per mile faster than my pace prior to March. 

While that's great, my lower back is not on board with it. Running harder seems to have triggered an old disc issue and on most runs my stride starts slightly unbalanced. This is likely due to nerve aggravation. This irritation has gone on for a few weeks and my aggravated nerves are beginning to aggravate me.
 
The problem minimizes after about 8 minutes into the run but it doesn't completely disappear and my antalgic gait appears to be costing me 30 to 45 seconds on my first mile. I really want that time back. I'm applying heat and ice to my lower back and have been doing active leg swings on the advice of Runsketeer TPP. It's helping, but recovery has been slow. 

In terms of performance, I looked at my running history on Garmin Connect and the data revealed a sharp drop-off in my pace that started in June 2017. 

This coincided with two interesting data points:

  • My stride length shortened 8.5% compared to the prior six months. 
  • My average cadence/SPM fell 8.6% over the same period.
I usually prefer downhill, but not in this case
Something caused this and I wanted to know what it was. Looking at my medical history at that time, I saw two things that happened around June 2017 that could explain it. 
  • My doctor put me on blood pressure medication. 
  • My ophthalmologist put me on a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor to address an eye pressure condition. 
I suspected that these drugs were negatively affecting my running, but I didn't know to what extent. Now that my BP medication is at the correct dosage and I'm no longer on that eye medication, my cadence and speed have returned to May 2017 levels. As great as that is, my stride length has not dramatically improved. I attribute that to my current back issue, so I still have a problem to solve.

I'm going to keep heating, icing and dynamic stretching and hopefully the nerve issues in my lower back will recede. If that happens, I think I may be able to improve my average pace by at least 30 seconds per mile. Will I ever get back to running well enough to credibly compete again? Well, that's the subject for another post.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

First Runs with the Asic Novablast 2

Nova Blast-off!
The Asics Novablast 2

  • A well cushioned neutral running shoe that uses resilient Flytefoam Blast midsole foam.
  • Ride is best described as lively, but slightly unstable.
  • Weight for men’s size 11 is approximately 10.5 oz
  • MSRP - $130

Conclusion: Even with more structure and weight than I typically prefer, the Novablast 2 provides an excellent balance of responsiveness and protection.

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Last Sunday I walked into Runners Edge ready to try on some shoes. I had watched and read many running shoe reviews and narrowed it down to three stability models. In my last post I determined that under-pronation was causing major heel wear on my running shoes. I thought stability shoes might be the best way to counteract it, but what did I know? Making the Choice I told the salesperson that I was looking for a responsive stability model and showed him the heel wear pattern on one of my current pairs. He said that type of ablation was due to heel dragging and suggested that I stick with a neutral shoe. I questioned that, but since this was Runners Edge and not Foot Locker, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Plus he said ablation which is a word I like.
Brooks Launch 8

Instead of stability shoes, the salesperson brought out two neutral options: the Brooks Launch 8 and the Asics Novablast 2. I’ve run in Launch 4s for the past three years and thought it was a solid shoe, but not particularly responsive. The Launch 8 felt a little more energetic than the 4, but not exactly compelling. The Novablast 2 was a very different story.


Once I put the shoe on my foot I knew it was the right choice. The Novablast 2 is nowhere as light as my Reebok Fast 3s, but it had a similar feel underfoot. The cushion and rebound were exactly what I was hoping to find, but the thick midsole was intimidating. Unfortunately, taking them out for a spin wasn’t an option, so I took a chance and bought them anyway.

 34mm stack height - yikes!
First Impressions

INSIDE I was so anxious to run in the Novablasts when I got home that I immediately tried them out for a mile on the treadmill. The first moments of the run were confusing. The Novablasts felt energetic but also a bit unstable. I eventually acclimated to the shoes, but couldn't help wishing they were a few ounces lighter and a touch lower. When I checked my data at the end, I was surprised to see that I’d run much faster than my normal treadmill pace. OUTSIDE The next day I took the Novablasts for their first outdoor run. The midsole cushioning was substantial and it minimized harsh ground contact. The soft rebound kept my stride efficient and the hip and leg twinges I’ve felt over the past weeks were barely noticeable. I found the high platform and slight heaviness disconcerting and a few times around corners I wished for more stable footing. With all that, I ended up doing my fastest run in many months.

The handsome couple
Time will tell whether I should have tried on more shoes or waited to look for other models that the store didn't stock. Overall, the cost of the Novablast 2s was reasonable and the bounce and comfort I get from them is indeed compelling. I’m hoping the Novablasts will be the shoe that gets me back into long runs and provides the protection for recovery that I don’t get from the other shoes in my rotation.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Running Shoe Rotation Frustration

The Shoe-pocratic Oath: "First do no harm"
Unless you're Abebe Bikila, the barefoot marathoner who won the Olympic marathon in 1960, shoes are pretty essential gear. Though some runners are indifferent to what shoe they wear and view them as tools, others (like me) look at shoes as something that can greatly enhance or diminish their running experience. I love running shoes but they don't always love me, and I'm dealing with that right now.

The Problem

In my last post, I mentioned some issues I'm having with my lower back. Recently, I've been feeling occasional pain and numbness along my right leg, hip and glute when I run. I suspect it may be a reoccurrence of a 2015 disc problem. Back then, my undisciplined training caused the rupture of my L4 and L5 discs, as well as a torn annular ligament. As a result, my orthopedist strongly recommended that I stop running for almost five weeks. 

High Octane alternative motion contraption
During that time, I was at Consumer Reports and had the opportunity to participate in a panel to test "alternative motion machines." These devices functioned like advanced elliptical machines and provided an excellent daily workout. This "zero impact" training helped my disc problem and I recovered well enough to resume my daily runs.

Fast forward seven years and I'm dealing with similar symptoms. My gait is awkward at the start of my runs but it settles down after a few minutes. Due to that, my first miles have been 30-40 seconds slower than my second. I've been running well and feel ready to add more distance. I'm holding off on that because the symptoms are reappearing once I reach the three mile mark.

The Cause

I believe that some of my running shoes are either causing or exacerbating my leg problem. I under pronate and originally ran in stability shoes like Brooks Adrenalines and ASICS GT 2140s. When I started Runner's Tech Review, companies would send me models of their newest running shoes to test. From that, I developed a preference for lightweight neutral trainers like the Saucony Kinvara and that became my default. I still prefer neutral running shoes, but they may not be a good choice for me.

My under pronation worsened after my disc and ligament problem. I started to notice how quickly I was wearing out the lateral side heel of every pair of shoes I had. I'd get 800 miles on a pair of Adrenalines but less than half of that with non-stability models. When I looked at the three oldest shoes in my rotation, I was surprised to see how much wear they showed. The difference in heel height from side to side was greater than 3mm. This is a recipe for running injury.

Worn to Run
I concluded that 60% of my running shoes were no longer runnable. That left me with two pair, the Saucony Kinvara 11s and the Reebok Floatride Run Fast 3s. Neither of these shoes have much mileage on them yet, but the Kinvaras are already starting to show a similar wear pattern. The Reeboks are still pristine and I want to preserve those peppy and propulsive shoes as long as possible.

Searching for Shoe Love

After looking up every single running shoe on the internet, reading every review and watching every video, I narrowed it down to a few models. Included in this group was the Hoka Rocket X, which is described on the Hoka site as, "...an incredibly lightweight, insanely responsive racer geared for elite athletes."  Check, check and check!  I don't want to brag, but I did take second place in my age group in a 2009 5K.

Despite deep devotion to Hokas by my fellow Runsketeers, I've always resisted the brand. They just seemed too high and bulky for my taste. When I stumbled upon a site called Hoka Outlet and saw the Rocket X for sale for $49.95 in my size (these shoes typically sell for $199) I thought, what do I have to lose? Answer: $49.95 plus tax. Yes, it was a scam.  I did manage to get my money back from PayPal, but I'm embarrassed by my naivety. 

Beware of Hokey Hokas

An Unlikely Solution

After the Hoka con, it was back to square one. I would continue my search for new shoes, but I wanted at least one additional pair right away. I considered my NB 680s that I use on the treadmill but I don't like to use my indoor shoes outside. I was about to grab my keys and head to the nearby DSW store to buy a cheap pair of stability trainers when something green caught my eye. Tucked under some winter clothes in my running gear closet was an 11 year old pair of Karhu Fast 2s that I'd tested and then quickly discarded.

Lapland Lappers
Karhu sent me these light-ish but high riding performance shoes to test during a period when I was wearing ultra minimal zero drop shoes like the Brooks Pure Drifts and Saucony Hattoris (below). The Fast 2's at 9.6 ounces were anything but minimal.

Hattori - 4.4 oz

Pure Drift - 5.6 oz
The Karhus were probably ahead of their time with their high stack height and "fulcrum" technology that facilitated a rolling gait. I found them awkward in 2011, but when I put them on now they feel cushioned and well balanced. Since I used them only to test, the shoes are still in like-new condition. I took them out for a run and appreciated the forward leaning motion and the responsive midsole. My pace almost matched the Reeboks, which are considered a bona fide racing shoe.

With my Finnish flyers added to the mix, I'm only short one pair to round out my rotation. The Kinvara is a light trainer that works well for tempo runs. The Reeboks are speedy and fun, perfect for intervals and when I want to run my fastest. The Karhus sit somewhere between these two. I'm going to focus my search on cushioned but light stability shoes that provide a responsive ride. I may end up paying more than I ever have for a running shoe to get what I want, but it will be worth it. Who knows, maybe I'll stumble upon an outlet that's selling Saucony Guide 15s or ASICS DS Trainer 26s for $60.

Either way, I'll let you know. 🏃

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Don't Call it a Comeback

All Hail the OMRON!

Hello? Is this on? Anyone there? Anyone? 

Okay, I know I haven't posted in a long time. In fact, a baby born on the day of my last post could conceivably be running faster than I do right now. Despite my very long break, I have continued to run and strive to improve. I'll admit there has been a lot more striving than improving, but things are changing. So don't call it a comeback. I've been here for years, rocking it like a Runsketeer.

Since my last post, I've run the gamut of motivation and expectation for my performance. I've mostly had the "Speed doesn't matter because running easy keeps me healthy" mindset. This would periodically give way to short cycles where I'd focus on regaining my old speed. Last September I decided to do every run at full effort, including running intervals a couple of times a week. I saw improvements, but they came at a cost. 

Constantly keeping the pedal to the floor exhausted me and I wound up taking a week off from running to recover. All along, SIOR was insisting that my manic training tactics were ridiculous. She said the correct way to gain speed would be to increase my distance per run. She was right -- but that wasn't the whole story.

My performance began to nosedive in 2014 and I ascribed it to a new job that I'd started that year. The commute greatly affected my running bandwidth and my monthly mileage dropped from 80 to 50. There wasn't much I could do about that. When I left that job and gained more time, I thought my performance would come back, but it didn't.

I suspected that my blood pressure medication could be the culprit. Looking back at my Garmin history, my declining pace appeared to start when I began taking that prescription. Even when pushing my pace, I would struggle to get my heart rate above 75% max. My form suffered as well. 

Recently, on a Runsketeer reunion run, I endured TPP and SIOR's well intentioned urgings to "pick up my feet." It was hard to do. I'd spoken to my doctor earlier in the year and he disagreed that my meds were affecting my running. I decided to prove my case and bought a blood pressure monitor. 

50% off!
Last month I showed my doctor six months of daily BP data that revealed most readings to be at the low range of normal. I even brought in my OMRON BP monitor to validate my data against his sphygmomanometer and they matched! My doctor admitted that my dosage was probably too high and he halved my prescription.

The results of that change were astounding. My energy level increased measurably and running suddenly felt easier. Since my dosage was halved 40 days ago, both my average pace and cadence have improved over 10%. That's not a placebo effect because the progress has continued. I don't know if I will ever get pacing back to single digits, but I believe I can wring out more performance.

I'm currently dealing with some lower back issues that are mitigating my efforts. I'm treating the symptoms and hoping to get past that soon. Once that happens I'd like to return to my old practice of a Sunday long run. I have on good authority that running more distance will yield even better performance. 

So maybe this is a comeback after all. With apologies to LL Cool J, I'm gonna take this itty-bitty world by storm. And I'm just gettin' warm. 
 

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