Adapting to barefoot-style running April 14 2015, 0 Comments

Changing back to a barefoot running style should be gradual. I say 'back' because, if you watch children running they land on the forefoot - and don't they love to run!

Landing on the forefoot means that the foot and the calves absorb the impact as the heel is lowered to the floor, and this requires strength.  The muscles and tendons involved in this movement need to be strengthened, and building muscle takes time - ask any body builder.  Overdoing it can result in stiffness, soreness and inflammation, and many people who have switched to barefoot shoes have experienced this.  So what can you do to avoid it?

Start slowly - keep running in the old shoes, and intersperse this with shorter distances in your barefoot shoes.  Take rest days - the body works by a system of repair-and-improve.  Every time you run, you create an oxygen debt in your muscles to which the body responds by building more lung capacity to capture oxygen, and more capillaries in the muscles to distribute it and take away carbon dioxide.  Working the muscles produces micro-tears in their structure, prompting a repair mechanism which builds back the tissue better than before.  All of this takes time, and rest days in between exercises allow it to happen.  Gradually increase the distance you do in your barefoot shoes, and if you start to experience stiffness in your calves, hold at that distance or drop back a little to allow them to catch up.  Gradually replace the time spent in your normal running shoes with time in your barefoot ones.

A useful tip is to roll out your muscles and tendons. You can buy a hard-foam roller to do this, but I use a rolling pin.  If I am feeling stiffness, I roll out the muscles in my calves, shins and upper legs for a few minutes before running and again after stretching at the end of the run.  This helps to move the lactic acid through and works with the stretching to lengthen and relax the muscles.  This has also helped in my case with achey knees, where I spent a little more time rolling the iliotibial band above and outside the knee as tightness here can affect the knee.

It does take time, but the rewards are great - success comes in the form of strong, fit legs and feet and light, trouble-free running with all of the pleasure that that can bring.

A nice pair of lungs March 20 2015, 0 Comments

In a previous blog I mentioned whooping for air after doing some intervals, and that got me to thinking about the whole area of lung capacity and stamina.

Our capacity to take in oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide depends on our lungs and our circulatory system.  Our lungs have a total capacity of normally about six litres for men and four for women, and at rest we use about 10% of this to breathe, the in- and out-flow being called the tidal volume.  The 'vital capacity' of the lungs is the maximum volume that we can breathe out after a full inhalation, and this is about 4.8 litres for a man, and 3.2 for a woman.  This is less than the full capacity of the lungs, as it is not possible to completely evacuate them.  Nevertheless, it is considerably more than we use in everyday life, which means that a lot of the air in our lungs is not exchanged with normal breathing.  Deep breathing, either induced by exercise or through deliberate techniques such as are found in yoga, is an excellent way to flush stale air out of the lungs and replace it with fresh.

When we make ourselves pant with exercise, we are creating an oxygen debt in our bodies, and this, in turn, is tells the body that it needs to increase it's capacity for absorbing and distributing oxygen, our aerobic capacity.  We grow more alveoli in our lungs, increasing the capacity to take in air, and new capillaries in our muscles better to distribute the oxygen to them and carry away carbon dioxide.  If we overdo it and cannot supply enough oxygen for a sustained period, the body switches to less efficient anaerobic respiration, producing lactic acid as a by product, which makes us feel stiff and sore afterwards.

So the occasional whooping for air is a good thing.  It clears out the stale air in our lungs, and contributes to making us fitter.