Exploring While Running and Fighting Boredom

I’m not sure if it was the extremely hot, humid summer we had or the fact that I trained for two half marathons with no break in-between, or something else entirely, but this summer I was seriously getting bored with my running routes. When you run five days a week, the scenery can get a bit old after a while, especially if you’re running the same route around 30 hours a week. I even moved three years ago, so these aren’t roads and trails I’ve been on all that long all things considered.

First, I started re-examining my route for my long run, Changing My Long Running Route- Maybe. In the end, I ultimately found an entirely different route than either mentioned in that blog post, and I’ve been running that route for my long runs lately. It seems to be a good mix of some smallish hills and flat areas but more importantly, it’s an entirely new trail to me, so I’m still finding new things along the way.

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I have about a month until my next race, so I doubt I’ll get bored with this running trail in that span of time. There are many twists and turns along the route to keep things interesting, some water crossings with cool bridges to run over, and it doesn’t seem to be too crowded although I pass some other runners and walkers in the roughly two hours I’m out there. The last time I ran my long run, there were several trees down from Hurricane Michael (downgraded to Tropical Storm by the time it got to North Carolina), so I took some photos. Surprisingly, I was able to get past the trees, although you certainly would never know that from this photo.

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Post-tropical storm wreckage
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A dreary-looking day, but perfect day for a run! I love these water crossings!

I haven’t just been changing my weekend long running routes, though. I’m also searching for new places for my other runs during the week. There is a town that I drive through to go to work, and I’ve discovered entire neighborhoods that are enormous that I never even knew existed. One day I just decided to change into my running clothes on my way out from work and stop somewhere to run along my drive home. Since that first day, I’ve discovered all kinds of new places by doing this. Most of these runs have been around 40-45 minutes, which is just enough time to explore a neighborhood or two before it’s time to head back to my car.

This isn’t to say I don’t still run on some of the routes and trails closer to my home, but by mixing up my running routes, I don’t get tired of running in the same place all the time. Now that it’s cooler and the days are getting shorter, I need to explore more places to run closer to where I work. I’ve worked at the same place for the last 18 years, so it’s not like I haven’t explored that much already, but I feel confident I can still find new places where I haven’t run. There are running/walking trails all over the place in my work town, many of which I’m sure I’ve never run on.

What about you guys? Do you run on the same route most of the time or do you like to explore and find new places to run?

Happy running!

Donna

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Changing My Long Running Route- Maybe

Since my last half marathon in Alaska, Skinny Raven Half Marathon, Anchorage, Alaska-43rd state, I’ve been training for my next half marathon, which is in November. The race in Alaska was in August, which I trained for during the hot, humid summer and I went straight from that into my current training cycle with no break. Where I live, it starts to get cooler in mid-to-late September but there are still plenty of days where it’s pretty warm until October hits. Then, for the next month or so we have pretty much ideal (to me) running conditions where the nights are cool and the days are warm with a bit of a chill to them some days and the humidity has thankfully dropped.

All of this means after suffering through the heat and humidity to train for my race in Alaska, I’ll finally get a bit of a break weather-wise for my next race. Lately I’ve been thinking about the best routes to take for my long runs. While there are of course many places I can choose to run my long runs, there are a couple of obvious choices to me. The first choice is a place I used to run all of my long runs on before I moved a few years ago (I only moved to the next town over, so not far). The trail is part of a converted railroad bed that is now a perfectly straight, what looks like mostly flat trail with crushed gravel and/or paved asphalt. The second choice is a greenway that I’ve been running my long runs on for the last three years. It’s full of hills, hills, and more hills along the asphalt trail.

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Running along the converted railroad bed trail last weekend

Last weekend I was supposed to run 11 miles, with the last 5 or 6 miles at race pace. I thought maybe I should try running on the flat trail because it’s nearly impossible for me to hit race paces on the extremely hilly trail but I might have a chance on the flat trail. Here’s the elevation profile in grey with my pace in blue from my 11 mile run on the flat trail:

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The elevation changes from 237 feet to 374 feet, so there’s a difference of 137 feet over the 11 miles that I ran. My average pace per mile was fairly consistent, with a difference of about a minute and a half from beginning to end. However, I was certainly not hitting anywhere near what I would like to be race pace for the last 5 or 6 miles. I think my mind wasn’t really into the run, but more on that later.

Last month, I ran 11 miles on the hilly trail and here’s the elevation profile in grey with my pace in blue from that run:

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The first thing that strikes me about this run compared to the run on the flat trail is how much more consistent my pace is on the flat trail (unsurprisingly). My average pace per mile on the hilly trail (shown directly above) differs by two minutes from my fastest mile to my slowest. The elevation changes from 326 feet to 466 feet, so there’s a difference of 140 feet over the 11 miles that I ran. Hmmmm. It looks like my “flat” trail isn’t really so flat after all, just more consistent, without the sudden increases and decreases in elevation I see on the hilly trail.

Here’s where things get interesting. My fastest times on the “what I thought was flat but isn’t really that flat” trail, which I will now call the “not really flat” trail, are not as fast as my fastest times on the hilly trail, because of running faster downhill. Since there aren’t really any steep hills to run down on the “not really flat” trail, I don’t get that boost of speed that I get on the hilly trail. Sure, I’m going much slower when running (and yes sometimes walking if I’m going to be totally honest) up the steep hills on the hilly trail, but because of the speed I get when running down hill, the average is not as bad as I once thought it was, before I did this analysis comparing the two trails.

Bottom line, I ran the hilly trail an average of 21 seconds/mile slower than the “not really flat” trail but moving time was almost 20 minutes longer on the hilly trail, because of walking, I’m sure. Elevation gain for the hilly trail is 676 feet and 284 feet for the “not really flat” trail. All of this makes me question whether I should run on the “not really flat” trail for my long runs. Since the idea was to be able to hit my race paces, but that didn’t happen, I think I may want to continue running on the hilly trail.

As I mentioned earlier, my mind wasn’t really into it during my long run on the “not really flat” trail. What I mean by this is the run seemed very ordinary and mundane. There wasn’t a whole lot of change in scenery and there were many other walkers, bikers, and runners on the trail. The hilly trail, on the other hand, is mostly much more quiet with maybe a handful of other runners or walkers along the way. More importantly, the scenery is more varied, with twists and turns, glimpses of different neighborhoods, ponds, often rabbits and birds, and yes, many hills.

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One small section of the hilly trail I like to run on

I used to hate hill running but several years ago I began to appreciate hills and what they can do for me as a runner. I think hills definitely make me stronger and I feel more of a sense of accomplishment when I can run all the way up a long, steep hill rather than just running along what seems like a flat trail. So in the end, I think I’ll stick with the hilly trail for my long runs after all. The scenery is better and I love the peace and quiet. Now if I can just tell my brain that I can run up the hills instead of giving up and walking the harder ones.

How about you guys- where do you run your long runs, or does it vary from week to week? Do you choose where to run based on trying to hit race pace? Do you think I should go back to the “not really flat” trail to work on trying to hit race pace or just keep running on the hilly trail and work on trying to run up more of the hills? I’d really love some input!

Happy running!

Donna

 

Training for a Half Marathon in the Heat of Summer

When I decided to run the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in August in Alaska, I knew full well that meant I would be running through the hot, humid summer here in North Carolina. It’s usually well into the 70’s by 7 am in July and August and humidity levels in the early morning hours hover around 90-95%. Daytime highs are commonly in the upper 80’s to mid-90’s. When the sun sets, it doesn’t cool off much either although if you’re lucky it will drop to around 80 degrees then.

Given the fact that I work full-time and get up for work around 6:50, I would have had to have gotten up around 5:45 for most of my mid-week runs. Instead I chose to run after work, which for me was usually before 6 pm, and which also coincided many days with the highest temperature for the day. So wait, you say, you actually chose to run in the heat of the day rather than get up an hour early before work when it would have been 15 or 20 degrees cooler? Are you crazy?

I would manage to get my long runs in on Saturday morning, usually leaving the house around 7 or 7:30, so it was in the 70’s when I was starting out, but at least it was cooler than running any later than that. I feel like I’m sort of a morning person. I can easily get up around 6:30 or 7:00, which I know would seem really early for some people, but any earlier than that is just not for me. The other day I had to get up at 5:20 to take my daughter for a medical procedure and I was so exhausted all day even though I had gone to bed early the night before to make up for getting up early.

All during my training plan for the Alaska race, I kept wondering how running in the heat was effecting my training. Obviously my body couldn’t run as fast when it was 90 degrees as when it was 70 degrees. I think later in the summer my body definitely had acclimated as much as possible to the heat because my runs weren’t as slow as they had previously been. Still, I wasn’t as fast as I would have been if it wasn’t so hot and humid, so how was that effecting my training? How was not meeting my goal pace times effecting my body? Would I have been better off sucking it up and getting up early to run when it was cooler so I could have at least been closer to meeting my goal pace times?

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I did a lot of trail running this summer to try to escape the heat!

I had heard stories about people training for marathons during the summer for a fall race and smashing their times. I guess the idea is if you can push your body to run through the extreme heat conditions when you’re training, the race will seem easier when it’s cooler. I had hoped this would be the case with me when I ran that race in Anchorage.

My verdict? I don’t think running through the heat especially helped me or hurt me when it came to running the half marathon in Anchorage. For a comparison, at the Famous Potato Half Marathon in Idaho last May (so it was much cooler when I was training for it), I finished just under 2 hours, at 1:59:51. My GPS watch also had me running 13.32 miles. My time was good enough for 7th out of 59 in my age group, overall 253rd out of 897, and 105th female out of 535. At the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Alaska in August, my GPS said I ran 12.99 miles in 2:01:06, 84th for women and 11/52 for my age group. The biggest difference, though is elevation gain for Alaska was 495 feet but only 89 feet for Idaho.

I suppose if you take elevation into account for the races in Idaho and Alaska, you could say I did “better” at the race in Alaska. Pretty much the other things, like age group ranking and female ranking are similar enough to call them a wash. A finish of just over one minute longer for the hillier Alaska race seems pretty good to me now that I’m looking at it this way.

After all of this, would I do things differently? No, I have to say I would do it all over the same way. In fact, I will be next summer when I’m training for a race in Minnesota in August. I’m sure I’ll be cursing my decision next June and July, but I’ll have to just re-read this post and tell myself that everything will be ok in the end.

Did any of you train for a half marathon or marathon during the heat of the summer? Did you get up early to beat the heat or run later in the day like me? Were you cursing your decision to run a summer long distance race?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Book Review “Running Science: optimizing training and performance” by John Brewer

Sports scientist and Running Fitness columnist, John Brewer is the consultant editor for this book which is written by Brewer along with ten other contributors, mostly professors, scientists, and lecturers. Brewer has reviewed hundreds of scientific studies so there are many references to scientific journal articles throughout the book. Brewer and his co-contributors attempt to demonstrate how science and running are intertwined. As a scientist and runner, I was intrigued by this book.

Although this book is touted for beginner runners as well as the seasoned runner, I feel that it is definitely for the beginner runner. I also felt like there was only a minimal amount of knowledge I gained from this book but perhaps part of that is because I’m not only a seasoned runner but an experienced scientist as well. Perhaps if a seasoned runner that wasn’t a scientist read this book, they would gain more from it than I did.

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The book is laid out in a simplistic way that reminded me of a picture book, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. There are 192 pages divided into eight chapters. For example, the first chapter, “The runner’s body,” explains VOmax, anaerobic and aerobic respiration, lactic acid, the aging runner, and the physical benefits of running. Other chapters in the book cover running form, carb loading and nutrition, running psychology, training and racing, equipment covering everything from shoes to sunglasses, stretching and core strength, and general questions like physical limits for the marathon and women’s record running times versus men’s.

There was very little in this book that I hadn’t read somewhere else before. However, I do think it’s important to get different perspectives  on running-related information since so much of the information on running is subjective, so I didn’t feel like it was a waste of my time to read this book.

A couple of things from the book stood out to me:  1) the author points out that ice baths are best saved for periods of intense competition and not during training. I know ice baths are a bit controversial, but some people swear by them. I’m not going to get into the science explained about ice baths here, but suffice to say this isn’t the first time I’ve read that ice baths aren’t necessarily a good thing for runners and 2) the authors show evidence that ultramarathon runners have much higher pain tolerance than non-ultramarathon runners. This makes sense given how much more intense training ultramarathon runners have but I had never read any scientific articles about this before.

In summary, if you’re just getting started with running, this would be a great book to read. If you’ve been running for many years and haven’t read much about the science related to running, it would be a good book to read. However, if you’ve been running for a while and have read scientific articles about running, this may not be the book for you. Then again, borrow it from your library and see what you think. You might learn a thing or two.

Amazon link here

Have any of you read this book? If so, what did you think?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Running While on Vacation

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to 42 states in the United States where I’ve run a half marathon in each state. I’ve also traveled throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, several countries in Europe, Chile, and New Zealand for vacations. Since I’ve often been training for a half marathon while on vacation, I’ve tried to squeeze in a run whenever I can. This hasn’t always been easy to do, especially if you don’t speak the language fluently and don’t know the area well.

I’ve tried many different approaches to running while on vacation, some have worked over and over again and others not so much. I’d like to share some of what has and hasn’t worked for me here and would love for you to share some things that have worked for you when running on vacation.

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Running in the Canary Islands was great once I figured out where to run!

Probably one of the biggest things that ensures I’ll actually run while on vacation is to make it a priority to follow my training plan. For example, if I’m supposed to run for 4 miles on Tuesday while I’m on vacation according to my training plan, it almost always works best if I go out first thing in the morning to run. I’m not a morning person but I can manage to get up and out the door around 7 am even on vacation (later if it’s not going to be a hot day). That way my run is out of the way and it’s not looming over my head for the rest of the day until I run.

I always run with my phone when I’m on vacation as well. If I get lost or a sudden thunderstorm comes on for example, it gives me peace of mind to know I can call my husband to come and pick me up. I’ve never actually had to do this, thankfully, but it is better to be safe just in case.

I’ll look for running routes on Strava and MapMyRun. Heck, I’ve even looked on Google Maps to find running routes using the street view. I’ll also check local running stores and local running communities to see if they have running routes posted online. In the past I’ve asked the concierge or people at the front desk of hotels for running routes, but that’s been so unproductive I’ve stopped doing that. If the person you’re asking isn’t a runner, you’re wasting your time asking for running routes.

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Even though it’s usually hot and humid when we go the, I still have fun running in Charleston, SC and love all of these huge old trees!

I’m cognizant of what I eat before going for a run. Once when I was spending time with my husband’s family out of town, I ate bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast and then went to go run about 45 minutes later. Big mistake. I’ve never done anything like that since then. If it’s a cooler day and I’m going to run around early evening, I know better than to have a big, rich dessert that won’t sit well in my stomach before a run (I’ll save that dessert for after I run!). I’ll pack snacks or buy some when I get to my destination that I know I can eat as soon as I wake up and eat before I go run. Speaking of snacks, I’ll also pack Honey Stinger bars to eat before or after I run and I always bring Nuun tablets to put in my water bottles during my runs. The point is, pack whatever it is you like to eat and/or drink before, during, and after you go for a run so you’ll have it with you on vacation.

Another big thing when running on vacation is to be flexible. I’ve mapped out runs before only to find out the street suddenly was closed due to construction so I’d have to make up my own detour. I’ve also been unable to find places to go for a long run based on what I’ve found on Strava or other places online because what was online was only short distances, so I’ve just gone out on my own and made it up as I went along. Sometimes the places haven’t been the most scenic but I’ve made it work.

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I ran in the bike lane here in Williamsburg, Virginia recently. At least it was shaded!

If you’re going to be in an area for more than a couple of days, look for possible running routes when you’re out driving around, especially if another person is driving. I did this when I was in the Canary Islands. The first day I went for a run, I ended up running along a fairly busy road and it was not ideal running conditions. Later that evening, I saw people walking along what looked like it might be a running path so the next time I went for a run, I ran in that direction and struck gold! It turned out to be a fabulous pedestrian path along the water that went for just the right distance for me.

Do any of you enjoy running on vacation or do you tend to just relax or spend your time with family or friends instead? What tips do you have for running while on vacation for those of you that do run on vacation?

Happy running!

Donna

 

5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before My First Half Marathon

I was extremely naive when I ran my first half marathon. While I wasn’t new to running, I was most definitely new to long distance running. I feel like I have been running since I could as a child. The only time I took time off from running was during college when I experienced the worst shin splints of my life and had to practically crawl home during a run. I decided to take some time off to heal and for whatever reason (most likely school and studying) that time off stretched into years. Finally after I had finished graduate school, gotten married, and moved to a new state, I began running again.

When I began running again in my mid-20’s, I tried to do things “the right way.” I began to gradually increase my distance, first running a 5k, then a 10k, a 10-miler, and a 15k (although I don’t think the races after the 5k were necessarily in that order). When I took the plunge and ran my first half marathon, I felt pretty well-prepared. Pretty much the only factor during the race that really threw me for a loop was the weather. The race was on the coast of North Carolina in late November and it was cold and rainy, which turned to snow eventually. By the end of the race, I was frozen to the bone, but hungry for more.

The weather that day was extremely unusual for the area so I was counting on that not happening again the following year. I knew if I could do as well as I did at my first half marathon, I could do even better the next year. You can read about my first half marathon here. It’s the only half marathon I’ve ever ran more than once. Since then I’ve finished 43 half marathons in 41 states (I ran three half marathons in North Carolina).

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Not my first half marathon, but one of my first ones. What the heck was I thinking not pulling my hair up into a ponytail?! And no hat/visor/sunglasses?!

Many things have changed over the years in the field of long distance running. Some fads have come and gone but mostly we’ve been given more options from everything like what to fuel with to apparel and shoes. When I was training for my first half marathon, there wasn’t this multitude of options for fueling before, during, and after running. There pretty much was Gatorade or Powerade. There was no Nuun, Tailwind, or Honey Stinger. This brings me to the first thing I wish I had known before my first half marathon.

  1. Try out some snacks on training runs to make sure your stomach and gut agree with them. Now I run with Nuun hydration and snacks on all of my long runs including my half marathons but back then I just drank and ate whatever was offered on the course. Maybe some people are fine doing this, but if you have a finicky stomach like I do, it’s not a good idea. I also love Honey Stinger waffles for a pre-run snack and haven’t had any gut issues after eating them but experiment to see what works for you.
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My running belt and tube of Nuun for a recent race

2.  Don’t get caught up in the excitement of the race and start out at a pace you can’t maintain for more than a few miles or so. People hear this one all the time, and yet they continue to do it. It’s tough to make your legs go slower than they want to in the beginning of a race, but they’ll thank you later for it.

3.  Don’t let it get to you when you see older people or people that look like they’re not in as good of shape as you pass you. I eventually learned this one. When it comes to runners, you can’t judge a book by its cover. I’ve been passed by runners of all shapes, sizes, and ages during races. Sometimes I’ve been able to pass them towards the final miles of the race when they were walking, but sometimes I never saw them again and they left me in the dust. That’s OK.

4.  Wear what you’re going to run the half marathon in during your long training runs. Just because a sports bra/socks/shorts/shirt doesn’t rub and chafe you on shorter training runs doesn’t mean it won’t cause chafing on 13.1 miles. I always wince when I see people running in the shirt they just got at packet pickup. I was pretty badly chafed by my sports bra after my first half marathon, most likely because I hadn’t worn it enough in long training runs to know how it would perform on race day.

5.  Do some push-ups and other arm exercises to strengthen your arms and shoulders as part of your half marathon training plan. I didn’t do this and could barely lift my arms over my head after my first half marathon. I had no idea my arms would be the most sore part of my body after running a half marathon, but they were. Since then I appreciate how hard my arms work during a race and have made sure I work on them in addition to my core and legs.

What about you guys?  What things about long distance running have you learned the hard way and wish someone would have told you?

Happy running!

Donna

 

My New Half Marathon Plan-How It’s Going and a Whole Lotta Shoe Problems

It doesn’t seem like it, but I’m on week 10 of my new half marathon training plan for my 44th half marathon in state number 42, which means I’m in the nitty-gritty of all things running. I wrote a post about my new plan a while back, which you can read here. It’s very different from the training plan I had been following for my past several half marathons.

Previously, my plan was more of a run less, run harder kind of plan, with three runs a week consisting of a hill or tempo run, a speedwork run, and a long run. I also cycled, lifted weights, did yoga, and did core work so I was doing some sort of exercise 7 days a week. It worked fine for years but I felt like I was in a rut and needed to shake things up a bit. Now, I’m running five days a week, cycling one day, lifting one day, doing yoga once a week, and doing core work when I can fit it in. My runs now consist of a distance run usually around 35-45 minutes plus six 20-second strides twice a week, a tempo run, a fartlek run, and a long run that maxes out at 13-14 miles (runner’s choice).

So far the only running-related issues I’ve had have been shoe-related issues. For a couple of weeks I started having extreme calf pain about 20 minutes into my runs. I would stop and stretch but that did nothing to relieve the pain. Massaging my calves helped but not completely. After about 25 or 30 minutes of running, my right foot would go numb until I couldn’t feel it at all. The only thing that would bring feeling back to my foot was when I stopped running. Not good.

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Running in my Topo Fli-Lyte shoes before I knew they were evil

My first thought was the lacing on my running shoes needed to be re-done. Years ago the top of my left foot (I think it was my left anyway) would go numb and I figured out if I laced my running shoes differently, basically skipping the criss-cross pattern over the top middle part of my foot, that would solve the problem. I tried that this time to no avail. My foot was still falling asleep when I ran.

Then I thought maybe it’s just tight calf muscles. I had an appointment with my massage therapist and had her work extra long on my calf muscles and discovered that my right hamstring was about as tight as it’s ever been. She was able to completely get all of the tightness out of my hamstring and both calves- yes, she’s a miracle worker. When I ran the next day, my right calf tightened up again and my foot went numb. Sigh.

OK. Maybe it’s my shoes. I run with two pairs of running shoes, alternating them between runs. The problem is, I would have a tight calf and numb foot with both pairs of shoes so then I thought it must be BOTH pairs of my running shoes. Really? I bought them both just a couple of months ago so they weren’t that old, but maybe it is both pairs of shoes that’s the problem, I thought.

Fortunately I still had my Newton running shoes from last summer and fall. I never had any kind of calf tightness or foot numbness with my Newtons. I had been wearing my Newtons to the gym for lifting weights and things like that but they were down-graded to gym shoes because they had plenty of mileage on them. Last weekend I ran 13 miles in my Newtons and never had any problems with my calf or my foot, which told me it’s definitely my shoes.

I started thinking about my shoes, though. My Newtons have a heel-toe offset of 5 mm, which means since the height of the heel is 27mm and the height of the forefoot is 22 mm, the difference is 5 mm. Of the two pairs of new shoes I have, my On Cloud shoes have a heel-toe offset of 6 mm, with a heel height of 24 mm and forefoot height of 18 mm; however, my Top Fli-Lyte shoes have a smaller heel-toe offset, of only 3 mm, with a heel height of 18 and forefoot height of 15 mm. Clearly, the Topo shoes have far less cushioning and heel-toe offset than either my Newtons or Ons. Maybe it’s just the Topos and my calf and foot hadn’t had enough time away from the Topos to recover. Either way, I couldn’t keep running in my old pair of Newtons so it was time to shop around for a new pair of shoes.

Apparently the current “standard” heel-toe offset is around 10 mm, meaning the heel height is around 10 mm higher than the forefoot height. The idea is there will be less stress and strain on your Achilles and calf muscles with a 10 mm heel-toe offset. I used to run for many years in Asics Nimbus shoes with absolutely zero problems with my calves or Achilles. I looked up heel-toe offset for Asics Nimbus, and lo and behold, they come in at 13 mm, actually 3 mm more than the men’s version. According to the Asics website, this additional 3 mm is to help relieve Achilles tension, which apparently women are more prone to than men.

I decided to buy a pair of Asics, though not Nimbus, with a heel-toe offset of 10 mm. I tested them out with a 40 minute run and didn’t have any calf tightness or foot numbness. The next day, I took a chance and went for a 45 minute run wearing my Ons and again, no calf tightness or foot numbness. Now finally I know- it’s the Topos causing all the problems. I had gone down too low of a heel-toe offset and my calf and Achilles were screaming at me for it. Lesson learned, more minimalist shoes (i.e. less cushioning and lower heel-toe offset) are not for everyone and certainly are not for me.

So now I just have to crank out a few more weeks’ worth of runs to get through this training plan before my next half marathon. I’m just glad I figured out all of my shoe issues before I did some real damage to my Achilles!

What are you all training for? How’s everything going with your training plan?

Happy running!

Donna