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UPDATE: August 4th, 2011

This site is only going to be for Vo2max Production’s random blogs from here out – if you are looking for the real Vo2max Production’s company site (the one that published and sells the book “Running For The Hansons” and posts videos by 2:16 Marathoner Sage Canaday) click HERE.


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Shoe Review: Brooks ST5 RACER

Form met Style and Function and they hit it off on the road!

I recently got a pair of the Brooks ST5 Racers, and my first though was: “Man, Scribner [Hansons-Brooks teammate] is going to be so jealous that I’m the first Hansons runner to get this shoe…no doubt I will be hittin’ the clubs hard in these puppies!” (Yeah, jk….but really, the new color of the ST Racer just cries for attention!).

First off, I want to congratulate Brooks on stepping up their design skills with this model. Previous versions of the ST’s were clunky, dull and just plain looking.  The ST5 is barely recognizable as a Brooks series racer- and the infusion of the BioMogo midsole not only yields a more responsive, cushioned feel- but it also is better for the environment in the long run! The upper has a more custom fit much like the Green Silence (although I did notice that one might want to try half a size down depending on their foot type and preferences for racing).

Weighing in at 8.6 ounces the Brooks ST Racer is light enough to be a go-to road racing shoe for up to the marathon in distance and it definitely fits the bill as a tempo run workout/performance flat.  The posting still remains as in previous ST models, however it is softer and lighter.

For those of you looking for something minimal, the Brooks ST5 would be a good transition shoe as it still has some support, but is flexible enough to allow more natural foot flexion and toe-off.  The T7 and Green Silence are still lighter, and more flexible. In short, the ST5 has evolved and is definitely going to turn some heads this spring!

Overall, another great racing shoe from Brooks! If the new, stylish look doesn’t sell you, know that it even gets relatively good traction in the snow!

See you on the roads!

-Vo2max Productions:


Meet Hansons-Brooks Athlete Tim Young

Link to RunnerSpace.com video of Tim:


A Training Manifesto for Distance Runners

A Training Manifesto

by Sage Canaday.

Principles I’ve learned over the years as well as basic definitions and ideas for designing performance programs. (Keep in mind my distance running bias towards those more high mileage, marathon types).

We’ll start with defining training speeds/intensities that many sources and coaches over the years have proven are successful in improving distance running performance at events ranging from the 800m to the marathon.

Think of all your running paces as progressing from left to right on a line. On the far left you are going at a slow jog/ walking pace and on the far right you are sprinting at top speed. While training at any speed (or “points” on this “line”) can improve your fitness, there seem to be certain sets of points, or ranges that trigger more effective adaptation within the body. For example, as detailed by the diagram below, there are ranges of intensities/velocities that correspond with “V02max” and “Lactate Threshold.”- terms that I will later clarify.

SLOW JOG—–Easy Aerobic Pace—Lactate Threshold—–V02max—-sprint

which corresponds respectively (from left to right) with:
(recovery) to (“conversation” training pace) to (“Tempo effort”) to (“aerobic capacity“) to (all-out).

Note: Obviously this is an over-simplification of the continuum, and the labeled ranges have more detailed pace/intensities within them. It is not showing a scale, and is merely a basic visual telling how different training paces/intensities are relative to each other.

Confusion has stemmed from many different coaches and books using complicated definitions and terminology for training intensities that are essentially the same. For example, similar terms describing a “Lactate Threshold” and “V02max” are shown below:

Lactate Threshold:
LT, Anaerobic Threshold, AT, Tempo Pace, Threshold (Daniels), Anaerobic Conditioning (Coe)…..also corresponding very closely to this intensity/pace would be the terms: Aerobic Threshold, Marathon Pace, Half Marathon Pace, Critical Velocity, Onset of Lactate Accumulation ….the list goes on.

Aerobic Capacity (Coe), Maximal Oxygen Uptake (Benson), 5k race pace….etc.

The scientific mumbo jumbo associated with these terms is not worth going into at this point, however, the more technical definitions associated with the two concepts listed above would be:

Lactate Threshold= the “point” when lactate concentration rises in the blood at a rate faster than it is being cleared…. Higher intensities beyond this point lead to the formation hydrogen ions and the result is increasing concentrations of “lactic acid” which leads to the “burning sensation” and tiring in the muscles as well as a “metallic taste” in the mouth. This threshold corresponds roughly to 15k race pace or roughly 10sec per mile slower than current 10k race pace.

V02max= milliliters of oxygen consumed per kilogram of body weight per minute of exercise. It is determined by several factors including left ventricle size (stroke volume), maximal heart rate (beats per minute), and the differential of oxygen content in your arterial blood and venous blood (Pfitzinger 18). This corresponds roughly to current 5k race pace for a well-trained endurance athlete.

Why are these two training intensities so important? Well, for racing lasting anywhere from 1500m to 10k, the V02max is the most important determinant in your success. For races 10k and longer the lactate threshold becomes increasingly important (Pfitzinger), although it is also helpful at improving your ability to race distances shorter than 10k as well. Likewise having an improved V02max can help you in races beyond 10k also.

In terms of training there are many workouts that can improve your lactate threshold and v02max. I personally believe in having specific workouts target exclusively one system at a time (either V02max or LT) although many coaches like to design workouts that evoke both systems within the same workout.

Furthermore, there are workouts that should target other systems above and below the paces/intensities of V02max and LT.

Paces/Intensities slightly faster/harder than V02max velocity/effort (but slower than all-out sprint speed) can and should be used to capitalize on gains in V02max by improving your muscle coordination (through the stimulation of neuromuscular pathways between muscle fibers and the brain), as well as by having the body adapt to clearing increasing concentrations of lactate at a faster rate. To simplify things I like to call workouts in this intensity/pace range: “Economy” workouts because they are specific to developing a sense of race pace velocity and lead to adaptations of more efficient biomechanics and changes at a chemical level. (Daniels calls this “R-pace”, Coe might call this “anaerobic capacity,” Run with the Best calls this “Anaerobic power running” or “Lactic Acid tolerance“). However, it is important to clarify that the workouts in this pace/intensity range can be easily manipulated throughout the season to stimulate very different adaptations within the body. Changing one variable, such as decreasing the rest between intervals/repeats or increasing the intensity or total volume of the training session are only appropriate at certain times and must be integrated into the overall training picture of complementing workouts and critical periods within the season.
Paces/Intensities slightly slower/easier than Lactate Threshold velocity/effort but faster than an easy jog recovery pace can be used in Long Runs to capitalize on building strength and endurance as well as teaching the body to more efficiently burn fat as a fuel and increase glycogen stores (energy to be used by the muscles) in the liver. Perhaps more importantly, this “Easy Aerobic Pace” as I will call it, is what makes up the bulk of training mileage at any given season of the year. Improvements in capillary densities in the legs, the number and size of mitochondria (powerhouse of the cell) as well as burning fat and excess calories are important adaptations to make an athlete more fit over the years. (Daniels refers to this as E-pace or L-pace, Benson refers to this as a range of “Aerobic Power running, to Aerobic Endurance training.”) It is important to note that this is a large range of intensity/pace, which could blend into “steady state” and near Lactate Threshold effort running down to an easy conversational pace that is employed on days between hard workouts.

To summarize the major terms listed above from slowest/easiest pace-range efforts to the more difficult pace ranges/efforts I have listed some example workouts below:

Easy Aerobic Pace:
“60min run starting at a slow shuffle jog and ending at marathon race pace”
“Long run of 20 miles or 2 hours….stop at whichever comes first”
“AM: run easy 45min, PM: Run at an easy, but steady effort on hilly trails for 70min”

Lactate Threshold:
“6-8 mile run at current 10k pace + about 20 sec/ mile”
“20 min ‘Tempo Run’ at current 10k pace + about 10 sec/mile
“ 3 by 2 miles at 10k pace + about 10 sec/ mile with a 2 min rest between each”

“8 by 1000m at current 5k pace with 2 min rest between each”
“5 by 1600m at current 5k -8k race pace with 3 min rest between each”

“16-20 by 400m @ current 3k pace with a 1:30 rest between”
“10 by 600m @ goal 5k pace with a 1:30 rest between”
“24 by 200m @ mile race pace (manipulate rest depending on goal of workout and time of season)”

4 by 400m @ fastest possible average w/5min rest between *
*note: this last workout is not applicable to merely building “Economy” like those others listed above as it specifically targets the demands of a middle distance race and high concentrations of lactic acid which if performed too frequently or too early in the season will lead to “burn-out” by destroying aerobic enzymes. I only listed it because it falls into this pace/intensity range that I broadly defined above, although I do not plan to discuss workouts such as these any further because they are outside my personal area of training emphasis.

Finally, there are two more main paces/intensities that should be noted:
All-out sprint speed, and a very easy recovery jog pace, which I will refer to as “Speed” and “Recovery” respectively as seen on the first diagram at the top. While these paces/intensities will be used the least in the training cycle of a distance runner during the year, they still may very well be emphasized one day each week.

For example, a set of strides after an easy day can be slowly increased throughout the training cycle to reach velocities of a near-maximal sprint. When kept at workbouts of less than 15 sec and with plenty of recovery these efforts are short and intense and designed to work on speed. Combined with hills and/or drills and plyometrics these provide an excellent stimulus to the neuromuscular system….making all relative paces feel slower and more comfortable. In fact, famed marathon coach Renato Canova suggests even marathoners run 8sec hill sprints at least once weekly to improve their performance…..at the marathon (site: Mensracing.com interview)! There is no doubt that on the track speed often rules in the closing stages of a race. Being able to shift gears coming off the final turn of an 800m-10k race may be the difference in several places or qualifying for a final. As Peter Coe said: “Touch on Speed every day.” At the very least, some 100m strides at mile race pace or faster several times a week should maintain this stimulus to some degree. However, athletes already training 2 hours per day often ignore doing the little things that will touch on their speed. All this extra focus and attention to top end speed development may very well be the extra “edge“ gained by 1cm in stride length or a 1/100th sec decreased in foot strike ground contact time pays big dividends in all races (ie 30-40 sec in a 10k or several minutes in a marathon).

Running at a slow jog is appropriate on days after very hard workouts or races. It is about regeneration and simply moving the muscles allows for blood to flow and in fact can speed the healing process for muscle damage and resulting soreness. Mentally, allowing yourself to relax once a week you can slog through an easy mileage day and still burn calories and hit your weekly total while enjoying the scenery. This is equally as important as any hard workout because it allows you to absorb all the hard training. At heavy periods in training you may be on the brink of injury and these days might be the only thing that save you from coming down with more severe tendonitis or the dreaded stress fracture.

Different Training Considerations for Individuals:

Types of Athletes:
To oversimplify things I’m going to categorize the typical runner into one of three “types”: The “Speed guy,” the “born marathoner” and “the versatile runner.” The book Run With The Best uses this idea of runners based on their Prs at various distances…they come up with more complicated classifications of type “A, B, and C, C1 and C2 runners etc (Benson 103).
To give you a general idea of these types of athletes, I made up some hypothetical PRs for each type of runner. This would be some expected times for an adult male with a decent amount of training and mileage background (ie 3 years at 60mpw +).
-events— —-400m—–1500m——5k—–10k——marathon
Speed guy:—- 50.0 — 3:50 —- 14:45 — – 32:00 — N/A
Versatile guy: 52.0 — 3:50 —- 14:25 — 30:00 — N/A
Marathoner: – 56.0 —- 4:00 —- 14: 25 — 29:45 — sub 2:20

I might be going out on a limb, but I think most runners are born to be the somewhat like the versatile type. Many of these guys ran the mile and 2 mile in hs as well as cross country and tended to be decent at all three events. With decent 400m speed they have the potential to gain enough endurance to run a very strong 5k and hold on for 10k. They can also move down to the 1500m and do relatively well.

The “speed guy” is most likely to be primarily a middle distance runner who may not even run XC, but would often contribute to running the 4 by 400m in hs.

The “born marathoner” is mainly a 2 miler in hs and they usually excel in XC as well, but not necessarily on certain courses or rough terrain.

A “speed guy” in hs may find that he is in fact a “versatile guy” in college as his mileage increases and he gains the strength to move up to longer racing distances and excel. Furthermore, many versatile guys who were only decent at the mile- 2 mile in hs find that with increased training volume over the years they have dropped PRs in a wide range of events and may in fact be most successful at the 5k distance during their later college years.

Why stereotype? Because training a group of runners all as individuals is optimal in theory, but not practical in a team environment. Runners within each of these three categories will have individual strength and weakness variations that could undoubtedly lead to more “classifications.” However, for the sake of simplicity it is best to generalize like this. What is important to note is that the training of each type of runner should be somewhat different in order to capitalize on each type reaching their potential.

For example, the speed guy is most likely going to do long runs and tempos at a slower pace than the marathoner even if their 5k Prs are the same. Generally the speed guy weighs more and is more likely to get injured from running high mileage. Most importantly, the speed guy has fewer Slow-twitch muscle fibers than the marathoner. The few slow twitch muscle fibers that the speed guy has are easily fatigued from high/drastic increases in mileage, and very long runs. However, because of their superior reservoir of speed, 6:20/mile pace on Long runs may feel slow on the legs, yet after an hour it becomes somewhat of a chore due to the fact that their muscle fibers are tiring. On the other hand the marathoner feels like his legs are moving somewhat fast, and yet he finds a comfortable groove with calm easy breathing and even feels better and better after 90min at this pace. The speed guy may be running 75mpw and the marathoner needs to be running in excess of 100mpw to fully reach their potential due to the specificity of what their main events are, and determined by their physiological “strengths and weaknesses“.

In the “off season” or “base building” phases of training nearly all runners should be developing their aerobic base through increasingly high mileage and lots of Easy Aerobic Paced runs. However, mileage figures aren’t end all numbers producing instant improvement. One should not become a slave to hitting totals merely for the sake of maintaining a perfect average. The theory of LSD (long slow distance) to build base endurance may initially lead to great improvements for “speed runners” as they simply gain some sorely needed endurance to carry their speed out over further and further distances. However, performance gains from an increase in mileage is a matter of diminishing returns and eventually the speed guy will find that he needs to keep moving up in race distances in order to keep getting PRs. On a larger scale this is exactly what may happen to the versatile runner and marathoner after a period of about 5 years UNLESS a new, more intense and ever-changing training stimulus is introduced. This may simply be a matter of adding more quality miles to the weekly mileage figures by not running LSD on “easy days“, or adding an additional, higher volume track workout per week. While the “marathoner” should look to increasing both mileage and intensity, the “speed guy” should look to mainly increase endurance through Lactate Threshold workouts, Speed sessions, and perhaps a continuance of higher mileage totals (but at a slower overall pace). Since the human body is like any other organism, new stimuli trigger it to adapt… and we must formulate specific workouts for that adaptation that leads to optimal improvement in race performances. This is were Lactate Threshold, V02max, Economy and Speed workout intensities come into play because for races lasting 800m to the marathon they are most specific to developing efficiency in race efforts. I will now discuss how these training terms/workouts illustrate principles of training that have historically been successful.

Principles of Training:

Training theory has changed over the decades and it is at first worth mentioning some historical achievements that have influenced the world of distance running and my thoughts on training principles.

1. To improve, to win, to reach your potential you have to work HARD (high mileage and appropriate intensity to back it up).

Back in the 1956 Olympics Emil Zatopek won the 5k, 10k, the marathon. He revolutionized the way people thought about distance training by a) running high mileage and b) backing that high mileage with high intensity. He did single workouts in excess of 20 miles such as 2 sets of 50 by 400m daily…..for consecutive days! Jim Ryun and Gerry Lindgren both ran over 100 miles per week in hs. Lindgren claimed that he hit over 300 miles per week several times later, and Ryun repeatedly ran workouts like 40 by 400m. Obviously these training volumes are a bit too much for any runner, but it goes to show that you have to sometimes be a little crazy in order to succeed in athletics. Frank Shorter, (the great) averaged nearly 120 miles/ week for an entire decade! (Bloom 22). Leading up to his gold medal in the marathon for the 1972 Olympics he said he ran weeks of 170 miles at 8,000ft of altitude in the mountains of Colorado (22). Alberto Salazar once told me that to improve I must be willing to train “haaaaaaard” and “really hurt”…the fiery look in his eye conveyed his message of masochism.

2. Periodize your training so that you never lose touch with your sprint speed or your base-building endurance:
When Arthur Lydiard developed what many would refer to the “ aerobic base building” phase in training many people mis-interpreted him. They watered it down to simply “running slow and easy for weeks on end while increasing weekly mileage totals by no more than 5% per week.” While some of Lydiard’s work is what I’d consider outdated, it builds the back bone of most successful training programs because it introduces periodization (read: changing training stimulus) which allows a runner to build on their levels of fitness through different adaptations week after week, season after season and year after year.

Lydiard’s general “base phase” was 10 weeks of 100 miles/week with a weekly long run of over 20 miles, and several runs at “¾” effort “steady state runs.” He also incorporated hill workouts (running up and down hills as well as sprinting on the flats) to promote speed, strength and good biomechanics.
But pure sprint speed on the track is also needed. While pure sprint speed is more specific to the 800m than say the 10000m, it is often ignored and underrated by distance runners. Top end speed however, is important even for marathoners because it allows all sub-maximal paces to become more biomechanically efficient and allows the runner to relax more at all race paces. “Run With the Best” advises a weekly workout of 10 by 100m at 400m goal pace for about 50 weeks out of the year. Therefore, as I defined “Speed” workouts above these “workouts“ can be done after easy mileage days and may consist of short sprints, drills, and pylos.

3. Different Paces and Intensities work together as complements (much like amino acids to form proteins …or ingredients in a cake recipe) in developing the program as a Whole.

Think of the big picture. Where do I want to be a year from now? 4 years from now? Your idealized progression in your mind is often not realistic. Set-backs occur, changes in the training program should occur (some for the best, some for the worst). Doing sprints, economy workouts, lactate threshold workouts, and V02max sessions build upon each other month after month. Coupled with high mileage you aim to become both stronger, faster, and more efficient to the unique demands of running what you find to be your best event. Therefore, during many of your productive months training and racing you want to not only keep hitting on your sprint speed and base endurance…..but to also not stray too far from a V02max stimulus, a Lactate Threshold stimulus, and an Economy (read goal race pace or key race pace specific velocity).

Coach Mark Wetmore at Colorado is an example of a coach that utilizes many of Lydiard’s principles without all the “watering down.” Most importantly, I think, is Lydiard’s idea of “steady state running” combined with high mileage and a day were the athlete only runs once but runs LONG at a relatively fast pace. What Lydiard’s steady state runs were leading up to was the modern concept of “Lactate Threshold” intensity and progressing at increasingly faster and faster speeds on relatively “easy runs.” This is much like the way that African runners train without realizing it…starting out at a slow shuffle, but eventually building into a pace that capitalizes on faster a faster aerobic development by closing runs at under 5min/ mile (which may only be marathon pace for them). Like a “random” fartlek this kinds of runs explore the pace range spectrum from a slow easy jogging pace all the way down to all-out sprint surges.

In more recent times, we’ve seen evidence of periodization in dividing training into specific “periods” or “phases.” for an emphasis on one type or stimulus/workout type or another….however this does not mean that all those other stimuli can be neglected. Sometimes there are two or three “sub-periods” or “sub-phases” within a phase. Things get complicated with a 3-10 week block of training chunked off and devoted to different systems emphasis. However, this amount of detail is important because knowing what weeks of training are devoted to developing certain qualities of training lead to appropriate planning of the overall season or “the big picture.” What is more important is being able to see the system, the whole program and its phases and to have it planned (roughly) ahead of time. This is best done by working backwards from the day of a championship race (end of season) and building the program around a time frame leading up to that cumulating event where the main focus is. While some may call this a “peak” I tend to think of it as being time when the athlete is at a very high level of fitness. I don’t believe in true “peaks,” and I think that the athlete can perform at a relatively high level of fitness nearly year-round. This is done by integrating all intensities/velocities of training somewhere within each phase/period of training.
For example, American great Bob Kennedy was once quoted saying: “At any time during the year, there has to be an element of base, V02max workouts, and speed work in your training.” (Pfitzinger 106). Coach Joe Vigil from Colorado State has mentioned having elite athletes do a session of 4-6 by one mile at 5k-10k pace with a short rest once a week nearly every week out of the year (Sandrock 36 ). Jack Daniels, who in “Daniels Running Formula” suggests having an early phase of training focus on R-pace (Economy Pace) or doing relatively fast speedwork early in the season, while maintaining it throughout the rest of the season/year. In relatively simple “summer of Malmo” (named after runner George Malley), the author suggests a summer devoted to doing 2 medium intensity workouts a week, on the track. One of those workouts is a Lactate Threshold “Tempo Run” of 4-6 miles in length. The other two are economy based workouts involving repeats 16-24 by 150m-300m relatively fast with a full recovery one week, and then doing longer, “pre-Vo2max” workouts of repeat 1200m-2000m intervals with a lap jog recovery the next week.
Alan Culpepper and many CU runners would do Lactate Threshold runs of 8k-10k on the track on a regular basis, closely monitoring their progress with heart rate monitors.

So in my mind, the athlete should be training 50 weeks for the year (baring injury risk). Most of those weeks are going to contain track workouts and nearly all of them contain a long-run and a near all-out sprint/speed/stride session(s).

Since most of the working world and the calendar year works of cycles of 7days, I like to keep mileage totals in that kind of time span. However, I personally believe in the 10-12 workout cycle because it seems to be the most appropriate way to rotate enough variety in workouts while allowing adaptation and recovery to occur.

A sample “pre-season” training cycle for an athlete targeting a 5-10k track, road, or XC race:

1. Easy Aerobic Pace: AM: 5 miles, PM: 10 miles steady

2. Speed day (Easy): PM: 3 mile warm-up, drills, 10 by 100m fast (400m date pace) with 300m full recovery jog between OR 16 by 8 sec steep hill sprints with full recovery, 5 mile warm-down at Easy Aerobic Pace.

3.Long Run:16 miles or about 95-100min….throw in fartlek surges of 30sec- 5min at a time or run Steady pace down to Lactate Threshold intensity.

4. Recovery: Easy 8 mile jog

5. Lactate Threshold: 6-8 mile Tempo run at about 25-20sec/mile slower than current 10k fitness. OR
2 by 5k at about 5-10sec/mile slower than current 10k fitness. 6 by 100m strides before and after.

6. Easy Aerobic Pace: 10-12 miles

7. Economy: 20 by 400m at current 3k race pace w/1:30 recovery.

8. Recovery: double if you have to, Easy Aerobic Pace if feel good.

9. Easy Aerobic Pace (steady) 12 miles + 6 by 100m strides

10 V02max: 5-6 by 1600m at current 8-10k pace w/3min rest OR 8-10 by 1000m at current 8k pace or 2-3 sec/ 1km faster w/2min rest.

Total: about 100 miles/ any given 7 days.

Repeat cycle 3-4 times, after reaching a period of peak mileage.

LSD, or long slow distance is what partly lead to the demise of American distance running- but so did the low mileage, overly intense anaerobic “speed work” on the track that was done at balls-to-the-wall effort 3 times a week. There was not much science, but just a bunch of hard-headed coaches and athletes with egos to fill and time barriers to destroy. Successful training became an art- and it still is today. However, it has also become a science, something with biological adaptations and data that can’t be ignored.


Benson, T. & Irv Ray. Run With The Best. Tafnews Press, 2001.

Bloom, Mark. Run with the Champions. Rodale: 2001.

Coe, Peter N. & Martin. Better Training forDistance Runners. Human Kinetics, 1997. Champaign, IL.

Daniels, Jack. Daniels’ Running Formula. Human Kinetics, 1998.

Pfitzinger P. & Douglas. Road Racing for Serious Runners. Human Kinetics 1999.

Sandrock, Michael. Running Tough. Human Kinetics, 2001.

“summer of malmo”:
HYPERLINK “http://pih.bc.ca/summerofmalmo.html” \t “_blank” http://pih.bc.ca/summerofmalmo.html

Source of that link from Kevin Beck’s website:
HYPERLINK “http://www.kemibe.com/highschool.htm” \t “_blank” http://www.kemibe.com/highschool.htm

“Interview with Renato Canova”
HYPERLINK “http://www.mensracing.com/athletes/interviews/2005/renatocanova.html” \t “_blank” http://www.mensracing.com/athletes/interviews/2005/renatocanova.html

Minimalism in Running

“Minimalism in Running”

There has been a recent trend towards revisiting the fundamentals of shoe design and its application to improving form while diminishing the incidence of running related injuries. Certain literary works such as the book Born to Run, have really sparked a debate in the running community in regards to barefoot running, types of shoes and proper running “technique” being applied to efficient training.  This topic has been discussed by a far reaching range of runners: from the Nike sponsored Oregon Track Club professional coaches and their Olympic athletes- all the way to your average soccer mom that wants to finish their first marathon in under 5 hours.

The Vibram brand has become a household name this year

A lot of attention has been directed towards the Vibram Five Fingers, and other barefoot running products that are promoted as being the solution to negating injuries and essentially improving performance.  There seems to be a consensus amongst some very passionate groups, that the shoe companies have created this giant conspiracy and are thwarting your perception of what is needed to effectively run.  This “marketing scheme” as they call it, revolves around “tricking” you into thinking that new cushioning technologies are essential to avoid injury.  I’m here today to merely discuss a little bit about both sides of the argument- and to let you know that there is a grey area worth exploring between the too sides.

First, lets look into the science and anatomy of the human foot:

If we look at the lower legs in terms of mechanics we’ll see an elaborate system of bones, tendons, ligaments and muscle tissue engineered for efficient, bi-pedal movement that can be sustained for prolonged periods of time.

A look at what nature gave you

The foot itself has 26 bones (28 if you count the sesamoids), which act in unison along with the key tissues of the plantar fascia and the Achilles tendon to dissipate impact force, generate tension within the foot and ankle and allow for forward propulsion.  For example, the Achilles tendon itself acts much like a spring that transfers energy from initial foot ground contact to toe-off.  These parts are all prone to injury and overuse from repetitive strain as well as tearing from high loads of peak force.

Based on this anatomy and the laws of simple physics, we were basically born to run barefoot- however only under certain conditions:

1. We are running on natural, soft surfaces:

Back in the days before pavement and concrete we ran on surfaces like dirt and grass…soft surfaces that allowed our natural foot some protection from the energy return of our body mass striking the ground.  You just can’t and shouldn’t expect to run barefoot on an artificially hard surface such as concrete!

2. We are not over-weight with unnecessary fat and/or unevenly distributed muscle mass.

Another condition to being able to run without the aid of a cushioned, supportive shoe is that you can’t be overweight, heavy or “big-boned.”  The average American is way t0o heavy for their own feet now! The human foot wasn’t designed to support the extra mass that has accumulated on your stomach and/or thighs! If you have a reasonably light body mass….say a BMI of around 22 or less- your feet will be a lot more accommodating to supporting the impact of each footfall.

The Fallacy of the Five Fingers and the market they attract:

So when a 200lb+ guy who is only 5’10’’ comes along after a couple years of running  with supportive shoes and all of a sudden wants to adopt a minimalist approach by switching to the Vibram Five Fingers there is a great risk for injury. His foot is not strong enough to support the sudden changes associated with running barefoot, especially on a hard surface.  To make matters worse, this type of individual usually really wants to prove a point by training for a marathon in his new Five Fingered, flimsy footwear.  Disaster!

In my opinion the Vibrams are a fad that will eventually be replaced by the disruptive technologies of knock-off products from competing companies seeking to capitalize on a piece of what will then be a diminishing market share.

What you really should be concerned about and do in response:

If you are concerned about being a “heel sticker” don’t be….your body has adapted to protect itself and there is still hope that your stride can adapt as you become faster and stronger from miles and miles of training.  The key is to do change gradually so that you don’t get injured.

Studies that the pro-minimalists use profusely to defend their approach and worship of the Vibrams actually come from a Harvard researcher named David Lieberman.  The interesting thing about the data in Lieberman’s studies is that they actually have shown that the peak impact force of a heel striker wearing shoes isn’t higher than that of a barefoot, forefoot striker.  The amount of force jarring your feet and lower legs is the same.  Proponents of Vibrams will say that the unnatural heel strike of shod runners creates a breaking force that is slowing you down, when in reality this “breaking force” is associated with a slow cadence or “over-stride” which occurs from sloppy form or extreme fatigue at the end of a race.

Graphs showing the differences in peak force (both about 2.5)  over time of a barefoot foot strike versus a shod, heel stricker.  Not much of a difference.

It isn’t the shoe’s fault for a person to be slowly running like this, but rather a lack of natural ability (not everyone was born to run well!) and/or a lack of overall training/fitness.  I believe that for some individuals, depending on their muscle fiber characterizes, the angle of their pelvis and the length of their femur relative to their tibia – you can’t and shouldn’t try to force a forefoot strike, but rather improve turn-over and form through the use of neuromuscular training sessions involving dynamic drills, hill sprints and faster track sessions.  Some marathoners are almost all slow-twitch and they will probably never be able to sprint very fast on their toes…they just won’t be able to get up high enough and paw back forcefully enough to generate a high velocity.

Essentially, there are no big short-cuts in distance running success- you have to strengthen and change your whole body if you want to transform your biomechanics enough to benefit in terms of efficiency, speed and injury resistance.  Just magically changing your shoes isn’t going to cut it!

In thinking about a recent article in the New Yorker about coach Salazar trying to change Ritz’s form- the fact that really resonated with me was the idea that you need to have a strong core not just to stabilize your pelvis, but to be rigid so that you are getting a higher percentage of energy return from foot impact to the act of propelling yourself forward.  I mean, everyone knows that core strength is key, but the image of almost all the elite Kenyan and Ethiopian distance runners is that they have that “pop” in their stride meaning the energy transfer is high and fast.  They have good hip extension, they are forefoot strikers and they are light and efficient- things that result in distance running success and speed.  Yes, they had years of running as active youngsters- and many also ran barefoot.  BUT it was because they most likely had no choice, the surface they ran on was softer, and their BMI is under 22.

Can the foot be strengthened through “barefoot running”? Certainly, but with individuals that grew up running in shoes the change should occur very very gradually.  But again, since you are racing and training on an artificially hard surface such as asphalt, why would you even want to risk injury converting to barefoot running? Economics and fashion statements aside, my view of the Vibrams is that they are inferior to light weight, neutral cushioned shoes or road racing flats.

So a much more practical option that harnesses both sides of the argument: get a road racing flat and start doing more of your training miles and workouts in it!

Why not just make the adjustment to road racing flats which have similar benefits with less of a risk for injury?

Road racing flats are more flexible, lightweight and neutrally supportive so that your foot will pronate and flex in it’s more natural state.  There are the advantages of getting a higher range of motion in the ankle joint, and the narrower ratio of heel to forefoot height means even heel strikers will be hitting the ground closer to their mid-foot to forefoot area.  Back in the 60s’ 70’s and 80’s nearly all the shoes that marathoners raced and trained in were, essentially minimalist like the road racing flats of today!

Sure, road racing flats don’t have individualized toes and are usually not quite as flexible as the totally minimalist Five Fingers, however, a higher number of training miles, fast workouts and races accumulated in them will result in strengthening the foot, promoting a more fore-word foot strike….real adaptations that will give you a competitive edge and provide more resistance to future injury.  It is no wonder that many elites and sub elites have trained exclusively in flats for decades now- just look at marathon runners in countries like Japan, where they are worn exclusively in training.

It is only now, that these real, traditional “minimalists” who wear road racing flats are becoming overshadowed by a new mass market of runners who support and buy-into the Vibram Craze, Chi running, and the Barefoot Ted Ultra Runner types.

“Barefoot Ted” a total Stroke, out to capitalize on his fame from the book “Born to Run”

Barely cracking 5 hours in the marathon in Vibrams

Just check out some of these websites and their associated propaganda- (which are quite a hoot by the way!)



Your decision on how minimal you want to go in shoes (or no shoes!) should at least take into account the variables mentioned above. Just being aware of your own body’s strengths and weaknesses, your running form (have someone videotape you!) and how those factors align with your competitive goals should provide enough guidance to make an educated decision. I’m going to stick with the Brooks Green Silence, as my go-to shoe for faster workouts, racing marathons and for experiencing “natural running” at it’s finest- the rest of my 120 + mile weeks will involve a Brooks training shoe (ie Adrenaline) with more substantial cushioning and support!

The Brooks Green Silence: Minimalist, yet still somewhat supportive and cushioned.

Marathon Race-day Nutrition

Taking on the marathon distance is a challenging endeavor for the body. If you think of the race in terms of moving your body weight 26.2 miles at a certain speed within a certain amount of time you are basically calculating (and quantifying) “work” requirements.  However, the multiple variables that go into determining your work performance and ability to meet these requirements generate multiple uncertanties…one reason why the marathon is such a “fickle” event!

For this blog post I’m going to just focus on one aspect of marathoning:  Race-day Nutrition.  This is one of the major (and few) variables that you can control and, hopefully, optimize so that other uncertainties are more likely to play out in your favor during the race.  This is mainly going to be a reflection of what I did the morning of the 2010 Chicago marathon-so something that I can look back on for future reference. However, I recommend that all runners keep a log or blog about their marathon experiences so that they have this kind of reference.  Learning what works for your individual body on race day is a process and learning experience, so sometimes it takes a couple tries to get things right.

When I was talking to marathoners at the Brooks Sports booth within the Chicago Marathon expo a couple days before the race, I learned that many runners planned to eat a relatively small breakfast race morning.  Typical pre-race meals for these runners included: “1 banana” or “a PB & J” sandwich” or “a pop-tart.”  I was surprised at the relatively light amount of food that these individuals were planning on consuming.  Personally, I decided race-morning to eat a wheat bagel with peanut butter on it, a large cup of coffee, and a chocolate Powerbar.  I ate this over a period of about 30min, at around 4:15AM  (3.25 hours before the start of the race).  I believe that timing is  important in this regard because you need to allow enough time for the food to be a least partially digested in your stomach/intestines.  This last breakfast should contain some complex carbohydrates and small amounts of proteinsand fats-sources that you can eventually breakdown and utilize as fuel during the race.   I hydrated with about 24 ounces of water and about 8 ounces of Gatorade during this time period from 4am to the start of the race at 7:30Am.

Twenty minutes before the start of the race I took a Tri-Berry “Gu” packet, which was a first for me.  I figured that some initial energy in the first couple miles of the race would be provided by such a supplement and that it might spare my main fuel (Glycogen stored in the liver from days of carbo-loading) from being depleted as fast.  I also had two more of those Gu packets in the pockets of my racing shorts so I could take them at anytime during the race.  I know a lot of people have trouble stomaching Gu and such a “large” meal before a race- however, I was determined this time not to “bonk” and I told myself: “I’d rather be puking and having stomach cramps in the second half of the race than getting dizzy, hypoglycemic and having dead legs!”  The later scenario makes it nearly impossible to run even under 6min/mile pace, whereas I was confident that I could still run 5:30/mile pace or faster while vomiting.

I realized about 1.5 miles into the race that it was already quite warm out (60’s and sunny) and so I immediately started grabbing cups of water from every aid station along the course and dumping it over my head so that my jersey was completely soaked.  It was kind of uncomfortable because it made me feel heavier and my singlet stuck tightly to my chest- however I learned that in order to perform optimally at endurance events you need to keep your core body temperature from spiking upwards at all costs.  The evaporative cooling effects created by the water on the surface of my skin along with the 11mph headwind created from running at 5:18 per mile pace,was one thing that I had control over and decided to capitalize on.

Okay, back to nutrition.  So I was fortunate enough to have special “elite fluids” every 5k of the race.  This allowed me to haves a total of 8,  8 -ounce bottles filled with any fluid concoction I wanted.  I choose Gatorade Endurance Formula (I used the powder form due to its less complex formations of chemical bonds and resulting polymers).  I watered the Gatorade down about 50% of what “full-strength” is listed on the box…something I calculated out to be about an 8-10% carbohydrate solution in terms of mass.  I had read in Pete Pfitzinger’s book “Advanced Marathoning” that this is the ideal percent.  However, it didn’t really seem to matter because out of my 8 bottles that I had set up at 5k, 10k, 15k, 20k, 25k, 30k, 35k and 40k I only grabbed 3.  A couple bottles I didn’t see on the table so I just ran right past.  Another couple bottles may have been knocked over by the faster runners ahead of me.  Who knows.  Anyway, in order to adapt to this scenario I decided that I would remain calm and just grab extra Gatorade cups from all the aid stations on the course (about every 2 miles or so).  Sipping from a cup at 11.3 mph is a lot harder than slurping through a straw like those on the elite bottles that I had.  However, the cups the volunteers were handing out contained full-strength Gatorade formula- so even if I only got 4 ounces in my mouth with each cup I was still getting the same amount of carbohydrates that I had in my special, elite bottles.  Furthermore because it was hot I sipped extra cups of pure water to fight off dehydration.  All in all I would estimate that I consumed roughly 80-90 total fluid ounces during the race- with the majority of those ounces containing at least some carbohydrates.

I didn’t feel very good the entire race, and I was constantly thinking back to my “meltdown” at Boston (Spring 2010) when I epically hit the wall only 16 miles in and had to do a painful “dizzy jog” for the last 10 miles.  I decided that I wasn’t going to risk any shortage of carbs and the resulting drop in blood sugar this time- so about 11 miles into Chicago I downed my first Gu.  That is 25g of relatively fast acting Maltodextrin and Fructose that, when washed down with water, seems to be absorbed and utilized within 15-20min of ingestion (I don’t know for sure about that time period, but I swear that that is about how long it took for me to feel “less light-headed” and “more energized”…..it could have been a placebo effect though). At around 16 miles I took my second Gu because my legs were feeling heavy and my left hamstring felt like it was on the verge of cramping up.  As the pack thinned out towards the 19 mile mark I started feeling pretty bad again, and I decided that I needed to ingest more carbs!  Luckily Chicago had set up their own aid station of Gels (this time it was an Accelerade Gel packet) I greedily grabbed a chocolate/expresso flavored one and tore into it despite it being something I had never tried in training.  It was larger and more watery than a “Gu” but I figured the carbs were going to be close to the same form and that I needed them.

Considering that I never really hit the wall,  and that my thinking was intact the last 10k of the race, it is safe to say that I ingested more than enough carbs than my body demanded.  What ultimately ended up slowing me down from averaging 5:17/mile to running a 5:30 26th mile (my slowest split) was probably more the result of shear muscle failure in my left calf.  I did become quite nauseous the last 5 miles or so and I started dry heaving rather violently- the result of stress on the body and probably from all the Gu- but that didn’t slow me down that much.  Considering all the carnage and DNFs from other elites that day, it would be safe to say that I ran a successful race and was close enough to running under my goal time of 2:19:00 to be pleased with the effort.  If you run relatively even splits during an entire marathon (and are really hurting at the end to do it) you have pretty much maxed out your body and your best finishing time on that day.  That is good race execution.  I think that such execution can be largely attributed to the choices that you make during the race.  Your nutrition directly before and during the race is one major aspect of performance that should be analyzed.  It is something that is going to vary between individuals, different race conditions and your pacing abilities.  Keep this in mind, and you’ll maximize your chances of having a “break-through” performance!

The pack was rather large early on....

A Close Call in Chicago

They say “Racing the mile is like burning yourself with a flame-whereas racing a marathon is like slowly roasting yourself over coals.” This “roasting” seems to crop up mostly after the 20 mile mark….it is what some might call “the last 10k death march.” In my younger days, I used to flat-out dread racing a 10k on the track.  Lactic acid that stimulates your tongue like its coated from a copper tasting “kiss of death” seemed to be highlight of such track races for me (as well as various muscle failure, stomach cramping, and hyperventilation). That was pain somewhere between the quick flame burn and the slow roasting. Now that I’m old and running marathons, my perspective has shifted to just this: first 20 miles + 10k.

On 10/10/10 I ran Chicago, and like all the marathons that I have run, I was in a world of hurt for that final 10k.  My left calf and hamstring were cramping, my thoughts were cloudy, and I was dry heaving in waves of nausea. The energy cost of moving 150+ lbs for 26.2 miles at a rate of 11.3 mph in 70 degree heat required a higher work capacity than my body could handle. I was totally dead, and at mile 24 I knew I needed two, back-to-back 5:15 miles and a bit of a kick in the final 385 yards to run a sub 2:19:00.  That didn’t happen- I was already fading to 5:25’s and the only little “hill” on the whole course occurs in the last half mile of the race.  On the bright side, I ended up placing 17th overall (8th American) and running nearly even splits of 1:09:34 and 1:09:44 for a PR of 2:19:18.

It was a tough day for many of the elites, as guys were dropping out like flies and those that went out fast early on seemed to fade (except for Jason Hartman who ran amazingly fast and still had amazingly even splits).  I also want to give major props to some of my Hansons-Brooks teammates:  Mike Morgan, who did everything it took (no matter how bad it smelled later!), to run a nice 2:14 PR;  Luke Humphrey who took it out and pressed hard in the middle of the race – yet still finished well when others faded or quit; and to Tim Young, who ran a huge PR, ran the most even splits of probably anyone in the race- and who brutally missed cracking 2:19:00 by 1 second.

This is the second time I’ve narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympic Trials (the first being in 2007 when I debuted in 2:22:21…. a mere 21 seconds off the “B” standard at the time).  Watching the finish line clock tick past that magical time as you attempt to feebly sprint down the last 90m is like some form of cruel and unusual punishment.  You replay memories like that over and over in your head for the rest of your life.  However, when I finally left the windy city this past weekend, I came away with more positive memories than negative ones.

Although we were all hoping to run faster times, the race was a step in the right direction for most of us.  For one thing, I learned that I can pound Gu’s and Gatorade like a champ (Perhaps running in such events as the Krispy Kreme 5k Challenge helped train my stomach?) Also, to combat warmer race temperatures, I’ve learned to drench myself with water every couple of miles to capitalize on evaporative cooling over the surface of the skin.  The marathon teaches you a lot of lessons-and many you have to learn the hard way.

Finally, I’d like to thank my sponsors and people who have supported me along the way: Brooks, The Hansons Distance Project, Keith and Kevin Hanson, the Chicago Marathon staff and volunteers, and of course my family, friends, former college coach Robert Johnson and all my teammates (current and past) for giving me the opportunity and encouragement to run in such great races.

See you on the roads,

Sage Canaday

(Vo2max Productions)

PS. Video of Hanson’s at Chicago Marathon to follow!

Welcome to Vo2max Production’s Official Blog

Green Silence

Recycle! Reuse! Recreate!

In the near future we will be writing about the minimalist running movement (including our take on the Vibram Five fingers), providing a recap on the Chicago Marathon, and sharing some informative videos about running.