If you’ve been in the running world long enough, you’re bound to see a pattern. It seems as though the whole sport revolves around the letter G. From the time you hear: Ready, Set, GO!, the letter G is inserting itself in every aspect of the sport. Today I’m focusing on the four main categories of G: Gear, Gadgets, Gels/GU’s, and GI.
Gear is a huge topic in the world of running, and everyone has an opinion on what not to wear. Run long enough and you’ll see why investing in the right shoe is so critical. Run even longer and you’ll never run in a cotton sock again. Once you become a running sock connoisseur, you’ll be combing the internet for the best deals on running socks, searching with keywords such as synthetic, seamless, cushioning, breathable, and so forth. Gear is trendy. Gear is addictive. To a runner, the promise or even mild implication that this “newest, most advanced, best version yet” might possibly shave a second or two off a race pace is impossible to resist.
A few days ago at work, Jaimee exited the locker room wearing knee high compression socks. After dropping dead from laughter, I asked what prompted her to start running in compression socks. In a very factual tone she responded that in her recent half marathon (in which she kicked butt, by the way) she noticed that “everyone” that passed her was wearing compression socks, so the only logical conclusion was that compression socks make people run faster. Of course, she probably didn’t notice if they were all wearing bright yellow B.A.A. singlets, or if possibly they were demonstrating a successful negative split technique, but once she latched onto the idea that compression socks were the magic bullet, there was no stopping her. I have to admit, she looks kind of adorable.
Of course now that she’s wearing the compression socks, I had to do some research to see if there is any scientific correlation between compression socks and increased performance. After combing through tons of articles, to summarize: it depends who you ask. Everyone can seem to agree that there is scientific merit in terms of re-oxygenating blood throughout the legs more efficiently and preventing blood from pooling in the legs. After all, these socks were originally designed for people with conditions such as poor circulation, diabetes, and deep vein thrombosis. What’s not clear is if the socks offer any sort of benefit while running. Wearing these socks while running seems to be a matter of personal choice, with factors like: Am I cool enough to pull this off? Do I like the warm, enveloping, snuggly feeling of knee highs? Will I get too warm? Am I okay with everyone staring at me? What does seem to be a little clearer is that there is a benefit to wearing them after a long run, particularly when traveling. (For example, driving a long distance or flying home after a marathon). As far as Jaimee’s personal critique, she is officially won over by her new gear and swears it makes her leg muscles feel great.
Another controversial gear topic involves the dichotomy of shoes vs. barefoot. I’m a huge fan of running shoes. I like them with squishy gel, ultra breathable, and with enough support to provide some stability without being clunky. My dear friend Todd believes shoes are society’s way of confining our freedom of movement, with our poor soles imprisoned in a cell of rubber. In Todd’s defense, he’s from New Hampshire. He takes the whole “Live Free or Die” slogan very seriously. (He won’t even put a leash on his dog because he doesn’t want her to feel that level of imprisonment). Instead, Todd wears minimalist footwear like Vibram Five Fingers to provide some protection to the bottom of his feet while giving him optimal freedom. When he made this switch to Vibrams he had to modify his gait, and he is still currently recovering from an IT band injury and continually trying to reform his posture. In my opinion, the only difference between his barefoot running and everyone else is that we have cleaner feet after a run. Again though, running with this gear is a personal choice: Am I cool enough to pull this off? Do I like the feeling of individually wrapped toes? Am I okay with everyone staring at me?
Gadgets, a sub-category of gear, are also impossible for runners to resist. Whether it’s an iPod, a Nike+, or a Garmin (another G!) runners are always looking for the next piece of technology that’s going to push their performance into elite status. I admit I have an iPod (although I don’t use it very often), and used to track my mileage with a Nike+ before I discovered the Garmin. I’m currently sporting a Garmin Forerunner 305 watch, which is roughly the size of a laptop on my wrist. I’m a little embarrassed to say I have very little working knowledge of this device, other than to track mileage, pace, elevation, and then see my route in Google (G!) Earth. My pal Scott is a total gizmo geek and has a Garmin Forerunner 450. His blog posts are full of all sorts of stats including laps, pace, cadence, and heart beats. I’m kind of hoping I don’t evolve into that. Although, just today Garmin announced their newest version, the Forerunner 610, which is Garmin’s first touch screen GPS for runners. Sigh. Now I want one.
Ever wonder why GU rhymes with “Ewww”? I’ll tell you. Because: It. Is. AWFUL! I have yet to find an energy gel that I can slide past my esophagus, which is becoming a real problem as I log longer and longer distances. I’m always on the lookout for some alternative, and the most recent Runner’s World had an article on this very subject. There was a homemade recipe for Gatorade (G!) which I tried. It was awful. They also suggest using little jelly packets you get at the diner in place of energy gels. Tastier, I’m sure, but not very practical. It would require me carrying a knife, butter, a piece of toast, and a newspaper. Jaimee let me try one of her special all natural GU’s, which was slightly better but still barely edible. I’m going to keep searching in hopes of finding something I won’t gag (G!) on, but in the meantime I think I’ll start carrying Gatorade on my long runs. Fortunately they just came out with a whole “G Series” for the various stages of performance. (Clearly the makers of Gatorade understand the significance of the letter G).
The irritated gastrointestinal tract has plagued many a long distance runner, and everyone knows that I am no exception there. I’m in a constant worry about what I can eat hours or a day before I run, and often even with careful planning I still end up with miserable cramping. I don’t have a great solution yet, but I’m continuously adding to my list of danger foods. This list contains: popcorn, corn, brussel sprouts, red onions, Kashi cereal, tuna, goldfish crackers, anything spicy, and sardines. I have also found that my best chance of avoiding a stomach catastrophe is to eat a small dinner the night before a run, and very little breakfast in the morning. I know I need a certain amount of fuel in order to perform well, but my stomach prefers to be as empty as possible when running. It’s a constant game I play of finding just the right balance. It’s also a constant topic of conversation on our lunch run, as inevitably I am asked if I need to poop. (This only happens when Todd runs with us).
This blog post was brought to you by the letter G. (C’mon, how could I resist…)