Relentless Forward Progress

I’ve been running lately. I’ve run a bunch of 5k races in the past, but usually right off the couch…no training. I’d been floating around without a goal, so I figured that training for a 10k would be a good one. I used a training program on RunKeeper.com to get ready, and it worked great. It ended up that I couldn’t run the race I’d registered for, but that was okay. I’d been running plenty of 10k’s all by myself.

Anyway, after training for the 10k I needed a new goal. That’s pretty easy to figure out, since it’d just be the next distance up from a 10k which is a half-marathon (13.1 miles). It doesn’t take a genius to see that it’s just one distance after the next. The thing is, I don’t really have any interest in running a road marathon (26.2 miles). I do, however, have an interest in running on mountain trails. So I started looking into trail running which led me to learn about ultramarathon running, which usually happens on trails. So here’s my secret: I’m kind of interested in running an ultra.

So, in the course of looking around and trying to find more info, I ran into iRunFar.com. The proprietor, Bryon, recently wrote a book about training for ultras called, Relentless Forward Progress. My copy arrived about a week ago, and I’ve been devouring it. It’s been an easy read, but full of great information from a wide range of runners. The book has several essays from elite ultrarunners, along with some super practical advice on training, nutrition, and equipment. It’s been a completely worthwhile purchase, and definitely a book I’ll be referring back to frequently.

I wasn’t sure how this post would factor into the simplicity focus of this blog but, as it happens, ultra running tends to be at the forefront of the minimalist movement in terms of footwear and gear. Guys like Tony Krupicka really epitomize minimalism and ultra running. Tony in particular tends to barely attend to hydration and nutrition on his long training runs. I’m definitely not quite there, but I understand what he’s doing in terms of trying to acclimate his body to being able to function under extreme hardship. Highly commendable.

I wouldn’t classify myself as a minimalist runner, but I’m testing out whether shoes with a lower “drop” have any value to me. In the past I’ve always run in standard running shoes which had a heel significantly higher than the toe. This differential between the ball of the foot and the heel of the foot can be as much as 12mm. I’m currently running in a pair of Inov-8 Road-X 255‘s. As I write this, I’ve got about 80 miles on them. They’ve been a fine shoe, and though I’ve got no complaints, I’m also not the most sophisticated evaluator of running shoes. I’ve been intentionally conscious about my running form, and trying plant my foot under my hips rather than land on my heel as I run. I think I’ve been doing okay with this, but it’s kind of hard to coach and evaluate myself!

I’ve got several friends who run in Vibram Five Fingers, which I personally find aesthetically abhorrent. I’m sure it’s a fine shoe, it just looks ridiculous to me. Which of course has no bearing on whether a shoe is a good performer on the road or trails. The big benefit to the VFF shoe is the ‘zero drop,’ or the lack of differential between the heel and the forefoot. This lack of drop is not unique to the VFF, as there are several shoes on the market with the same quality. I’m guessing that Vibram is marketing the independent movement of toes as a differentiating factor among its offering. Whatever. If the VFF shoes work for you, and your dignity can absorb the blow, more power to you. I’ll find other options.

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