Be Careful Out There

This is the time of year when many of us start doing it in the dark. (Running, that is … what else did you think we meant?)

It’s also an important time for a refresher on running safety, so we can all be careful out there. Running in the dark requires some equipment, some advance planning, and vigilance.

Clothes and equipment: Wear light colored clothing, with reflective striping or accents wherever possible. Put some on your dog as well, if you run with one. Many runners wear flashing LED lights on their backsides – they’re inexpensive and easy to find at running stores or on-line. Use a headlamp to help you see the road and to alert oncoming cars to your presence. (Contact us for more info about headlamp shopping.)

If you wear a thick hat to keep your head warm, make sure you don’t pull it too far over your ears or eyes. You still need to hear and remain alert.

Routes: Run on roads that are familiar, and preferably well lit. Stay on the left side of the road to face oncoming traffic. Always assume that the driver doesn’t see you, or even worse, is out to get you - because some day, he actually might be. Be wary of sideview mirrors that stick out from trucks, and give them a wide berth. Above all, don’t be afraid to step off the road and stop; your time doesn’t matter as much as your life.

Most critically of all – NEVER assume that a car sees you, or that the driver will do the right thing and avoid you. Some drivers feel like they own the entire road – and all it takes is one arrogant jerk to end your running career for good.

Form: Running in the dark naturally makes you more adept at “high stepping” to avoid small bumps. If you typically shuffle with your feet low to the ground, a few stumbles will quickly teach you to raise your feet a bit higher with each stride. Doing so is actually good for your overall form as well.

Partners: Find a friend or group to run with, for added security in numbers – an issue of increased importance for women. Each person takes responsibility for his (or her) own well-being, but also looks out for those around him. For example, don’t hesitate to yell a warning when you notice a car coming or see a hole in the road.

A recent running magazine study found that more runners are hit by cars when they run abreast of each other than when single file. We call this a “Well, DUH” kind of study … but just because the point is obvious doesn’t make it less important. If you’re running with a large group, the person out farthest into the traffic lane is in the most danger. So whenever a car approaches, cut the chit chat and quickly go single file.

Headphones and Ipods: In a word: NO. Don’t use them in the dark. Sure, music is cool, but being safe is even cooler. In the darkness, you rely on your sense of hearing more than anything to keep you safe. You have to be hyper-alert to noises around you – especially in the era of whisper-quiet hybrid cars that can inadvertently sneak up on you.

Above all, don’t get complacent. These rules are simple, but they should be adhered to every single day that you venture into the dark. Be careful out there, and run safely all the way to springtime.

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Insider's View of the Big Sur Half-Marathon

With each passing year, it’s getting harder to come up with new complimentary adjectives to describe the Big Sur Marathon’s events – so we’ll just preface our report of yesterday’s Big Sur Half Marathon on Monterey Bay with the word PERFECTION. By race standards, events don’t get any better than this.

So what makes an event perfect? Start with the weather: cool at the start but with clear skies – conditions that were ideal both for running fast times, and for viewing the race as a spectator. Then consider the course: a beautiful coastline route with rolling hills that are challenging enough to provide variety but still gentle enough to allow great times. Large numbers of spectators congregated to boost the runners’ adrenaline and enthusiasm. And the out and back layout gives you the diversion of watching other runners for a while.

Logistically, the race went very smoothly as well. The wave start system was flawlessly executed and allowed runners to avoid congestion from start to finish. The d-chip timing system made sure everyone’s time was recorded accurately, regardless of starting wave. Course organization and volunteer support were second to none, as usual. The local military community and the Defense Language Institute provided hundreds of volunteers to help the race go smoothly.

And if all that wasn’t enough … we even loved the color of the race shirts; there wasn’t a trace of periwinkle in sight.

Although we’re veterans of countless road races, we still take away lessons from nearly every event – and here are some things we learned from this year’s race:

You can’t keep runners from their beer: Mike was in the inflatable Michelob Ultra beer tent waiting for an after race treat when the tent started to deflate slowly, causing some out-of-staters to think we were having an earthquake. The locals didn’t panic, however – and before the tent could collapse, a hero we’ll call Big John (“he stood 6 foot 6 and weighed 245”), stepped to the middle of the tent and held it aloft, allowing the beer pouring to continue. It should be noted that Big John was wearing a race medal and most certainly had to be one of the biggest finishers on Sunday.

Old dogs can still learn some tricks: Rod MacKinlay holds the course record for the 65 to 69 division, and recently turned 70, so he should have been a lock to set another record for his new age group. Rod felt so good he ran the first mile in a bit over 6 minutes and 30 seconds, but paid dearly for his ambitious start later on and missed setting a record. We predict that next year he’ll start a bit more conservatively – and will almost certainly take the record down.

Persistence wins: Some local runners always win or finish high in their age divisions – and normally, Peter Krasa from Pebble Beach isn’t one of them. However, this year Peter has been on a tear, and won the 65-69 year age division yesterday. He’s made himself a fast runner by dedication and persistence. Peter also has a great sense of humor and a love of running that is contagious; so watching him win his age division was something that all local runners cheered about.

NO soup for you: Steve Marshall from Seaside ran the race, then stayed on his feet for hours providing hot soup to later finishers. At one point a table tipped and Steve bravely tried to right the listing soup tureen. Spilling hot soup on his bare legs apparently wasn’t a problem - but he did complain that his racing shoes and new socks were drenched. At his next race, he’ll be the guy who smells like minestrone.

Big Sur Half Marathon in Afghanistan: The marathon organization sent race shirts to soldiers who ran the first Big Sur Half Marathon in Afghanistan. 85 military personnel completed their race simultaneously with those in Monterey. We thank them for their brave service, and gladly welcome them to the family of Big Sur runners.

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Pre-race Routines

Professional golfers talk with reverence and almost mystical terms about their pre-shot routines. Having a consistent routine calms the nerves, heightens the mind/body connection, instills confidence, and sets the stage for the perfect shot.

Although neither one of us claims to be mystical, we believe strongly in the ability of a pre-race routine to improve race performance for runners just as much as whispering to the putter helps a golfer sink a high-pressure shot. If you’re preparing to run this Sunday’s Big Sur Half Marathon, you have a chance to put our theory to the test.

Here is a typical pre-race routine that has worked for us and thousands of other runners. It’s not a magic formula, but it is very simple and practical, and will prepare you to run your best when the gun goes off.

We’ll assume that you’ve spent several months doing all the proper training to carry you to the starting line healthy and capable of running a great race – but most of this advice will even help you slackers out there who haven’t prepared at all. So here we go.

Above all else, the most important rule is don’t do anything before or during the race that you have not done before. In other words, don’t try anything new. Don’t let a friend talk you into their special “good luck” dinner of spicy enchiladas. Don’t wear the super-sexy race outfit you bought at last night’s expo to show off your physique. Don’t accept gummy worms or Advil from fellow runner who promises that they’ll make you feel great. When in doubt … Just. Don’t.

But enough of what not to do; here are some things you should do:

The night before: Carbo-load with pasta or potatoes. Drink water with your meal. The combination of carbohydrates and water helps store glycogen in your muscles.

Lay out your race clothes and put your number and chip on so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning. Don’t wear the new race shirt – trust us, it’s bad juju. If you see anyone at the start wearing the race shirt, know that you have one advantage over him or her.

Set two alarms - one that is battery operated - and go to bed early. Try to get a good nights sleep, but don’t worry too much if you toss and turn. It won’t hurt you. While you drift off to sleep, visualize yourself running strong and smooth, having a great race, and finishing with a smile.

Race Morning: “Top off your tank” with a light meal, but not too close to race time. Try to get about 400-600 calories into your stomach before 5AM. The best options are carbs like a bagel, banana or a bit of oatmeal – something that won’t upset your stomach.

Do some light stretching at home and drink a bit of water. Leave home in time to allow for traffic and be comfortably parked by 6 A.M. Drink some coffee on the drive – the caffeine perks you up, and also provides an endurance benefit by helping you maintain your glycogen stores longer.

When you arrive at the start area, immediately go to the porta-john line and use the facilities. Then walk to the race staging area and determine exactly how you access your starting corral and what time you have to be there. Find the sweats/clothing drop area as well.

At 6:35, start a light warm up. For some this is 15 minutes of running and for some it can be 15 minutes of walking and stretching while you are talking to friends. It is important to warm up your body even if you do not have a time goal.

At 6:50 put on your Vaseline or body-glide, drop off your sweats, use the porta-johns for the last time if you need it. Be aware if the lines are long you might have to line up before 6:45 to insure getting to the starting area in time. Have a few last sips of water. At 6:55 if you have a time goal do some quick sprints to prime your muscles for running fast.

Make sure your shoe laces are double knotted. Get in position at the starting line. Do more visualization and think positive thoughts. Keep your legs moving a bit as you wait for the start.

At 7:05 start having the race of you life and enjoy every minute of it.

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Footwear Review

Hi there! If you're looking for Donald's reviews of minimal and natural footwear, follow these links:

Vibram FiveFingers

Feelmax Niesa

Nike Free Everyday

Newton Gravity

ECCO BIOM

Thanks for reading!

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Natural, Minimal ... or Naked?

We recently reported on the barefoot running craze that’s gaining popularity, and how several shoe manufacturers are designing “barefoot shoes” to combine the benefits of barefoot running with the protection of a traditional shoe.

When done correctly, the biomechanics of barefoot running have been shown in some studies to be more efficient and less injurious than using traditional shoes. However, even the most hardcore barefoot runners wear something on their feet occasionally – in which case they look for footwear that mimics naked feet as closely as possible.

The problem is that barefoot running form is completely different than the biomechanics of traditional footwear. That’s why footwear companies have developed two distinct new categories of shoes with barefoot biomechanics in mind.

Minimalist footwear

This style means just what the name implies: the absolute minimal covering you can get by with short of leaving your feet naked. Typically, the underside of the shoe is very thin and flexible, made of some kind of puncture-resistant rubber just a few millimeters thick. There’s no heel, no midfoot cushioning, no arch support, and nothing to give the shoes structure; in fact, most shoes of this variety can be rolled upon themselves like a sleeping bag.

Vibram is clearly the industry standard in this category, with its revolutionary FiveFingers gaining in popularity with each passing month. Check them out at www.vibramfivefingers.com.

Feelmax is a small Finnish company that is just beginning to make inroads among American consumers. Their styles have a casual athletic-shoe look to them, and can be used for exercise or casual wear. They’re sold at www.giftsfromfinland.com

Other runners wear aqua socks or thin moccasins to maintain the barefoot feel with a thin layer of protection and warmth.

Natural footwear

These shoes replicate the biomechanics of barefoot running – in particular, a forefoot strike instead of heelstrike - while still providing most aspects of normal shoe construction that consumers expect. This category has attracted the heavy hitters of the shoe industry.

Compared to traditional running shoes, natural footwear has a lower heel angle, less midfoot cushioning, and more forefoot flexibility. They represent a great intermediate step for someone looking to gradually shift towards minimalist or barefoot running.

With that in mind, here are some key players:

Nike: You may have heard of these guys before. Ironically, the company who almost singlehandedly kicked off the running shoe boom is now a leading proponent of barefoot running, and has several different lines of Nike Free footwear available online and in stores.

Newton: Their Gravity shoe is a lightweight trainer that is built for a pure forefoot running pattern. They’re also built for speed – and Newton enjoys a significant following among elite triathletes. See www.newtonrunning.com

ECCO: Better known for their high-end dress shoes, ECCO created the BIOM as a super-durable high-performance natural running shoe. It’s loaded with unique features and design innovations born from the company’s extensive background of research and expert craftsmanship. Learn more at www.biomproject.com.

Naked feet

Of course, nothing will truly replicate the feeling of running completely barefoot, but these shoes provide you many of the benefits without nearly so much risk or discomfort from cruising around with naked feet.

The worlds of minimal and natural footwear are definitely worth exploring if you suffer from frequent injuries, or want to gradually progress toward becoming a barefoot runner. Donald has done in-depth reviews of each of the products mentioned here; check out our website for all the links.

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