Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fall: Mountain Running Season

With my recent return to running health, this fall I have focused on slowly increasing my effort/intensity while taking the opportunity to enjoy prime season for running in the mountains. Many of the higher elevations in the Cascades remain under snow well into July and, this year (on the heels if La Nina) even into August. I've gotten in some great mountain trail runs recently and I would like to highlight some of them in this post. Unfortunately, I rarely carry a camera (but see Grand Ridge below), so you will have to take my word for how awesome they are!

Burroughs Mountain (Mount Rainier Nat'l Park)
This run starts from the Sunrise Visitor's Center in Mt Rainier NP, the highest place you can drive to in the park. I did this on a gorgeous mid-September weekend day. The trail winds up towards Frozen Lake to a multi-way trail intersection. From here, one trail makes its way to the west to a fire lookout (also a great trip), the Wonderland Trail continues straight ahead through alpine meadows, eventually winding down to the Carbon River and continuing all the way around the massif, and the trail to Burroughs Mountain climbs steeply to the left.  I went left, crossing several snowfields still lingering, reaching Burroughs Mountain shortly, then dipping down across a saddle and climbing again to 2nd Burroughs Mountain.  After a brief pause at the summit, I returned the way I came and then took the alternate route back to Sunrise along the Rim trail, with views aplenty across the Emmons Glacier.  Overall, this was a great outing even if I found it to be a little steep for continuous running on the uphill (especially given the altitude).

Topo map and route for Burroughs Mountain loop

Grand Park (Mount Rainier Nat'l Park)
The weather forecast didn't look great on this weekend in September, but I wanted to get up high in the mountains to enjoy some trails that aren't often snow-free.  I had done Grand Park before as a day hike, so I knew it would be good.  The trail starts on USFS land just outside the park boundary, entering the park after a short half-mile of rudimentary trail, then climbs up to Grand Park in about 2.5-3 miles, which is where the real fun begins.  Grand Park is a huge mountain meadow, flat as a pancake with trees only at the perimeter and a few stands of dying conifers interspersed throughout.  It really is a surreal place. On this foggy, drizzly day, I only caught glimpses of the massive Mount Rainier looming overhead (on a clear day, the mountain dominates the view).  It was almost more intense and surreal in the landscape with the clouds and mist because my visual focus was not distracted by the glaciers and slopes above.  Running through the park is entirely pleasurable and offers a nice respite from the climbing trail (approx. 1,500 feet elevation gain) on the way up, which had a few sections steep enough to be walked.  Once the trail intersected the Wonderland Trail, I turned around, back through Grand Park and then into the woods for a fast fun descent back to the car.

Topo map and route for Grand Park run

Grand Ridge (Olympic Nat'l Park)
This is a spectacular ridge run beginning at Obstruction Point, southeast of Hurricane Ridge. Once you brave the narrow winding Obstruction Point Road, the fun begins at a small trailhead that seems worlds away from the crowded scene at Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center.  I chose an October weekend day with a variable weather forecast, but hit the nail on the head with the weather window.  As I neared the trailhead, clouds gave way to partial sun.  Running the ridge southeast from the trailhead affords constant views of the Olympic Mountains, cloaked in fresh snow this fall season.  Clouds and fog in the valleys below whisped over the ridge on occasion adding to the wild feel.  This run can be done as a point-to-point if you coordinate another car at the other end, but I was flying solo today and decided to turn around at Maiden Peak.  There is one lengthy steep section on the return that forced me to slow to a walk, but otherwise this trail is completely runnable.  Definitely a "must do" for those that enjoy running  in the high mountains.

 Looking out over the Olympic Peaks from Grand Ridge

Running on the Ridge

Topo map and route for Grand Ridge run

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Been a while

Well, it has been quite a while since I last posted here (not that it was particularly regular so far before...). Since that time, I quit running for a month and went traveling in China with Amy. We tried to update a China-specific blog while there but the Great Firewall of China ate all our posts...Bummer!

When we returned from China I started running again, beginning slowly with good results and my plantar fasciitis faded to the point where I no longer considered it limiting by the end of August. So how did this all happen? Read on...

Before China (BC), I was getting pretty frustrated and didn't know what to do. One day I got home and, on a whim, decided to remove my Superfeet from my running shoes (Mizuno Wave Musha 2, a "support" racing flat with 8mm drop). I went for a slow short run and felt pretty good. As a result of this relative success, and since nothing else seemed to be working, I decided to move forward with a more minamalist approach based on the theories promoted by the popular Born to Run inspired movement that suggests lower injury risk, as well as a few personal anecdotes that had been shared with me by others that have overcome PF. Prior to this, I had already begun working on my running form, started running in a lower drop racing flat, and was practicing a regular workout routine aimed primarily at balance, leg and hip strength, and foot strength.

Mizuno Wave Musha 2 on my feet during a recent run of Grand Ridge in Olympic National Park

For a couple weeks before the trip, I tried spending as much time barefoot and/or in minimal footwear all the time, including some light running. I picked up a pair of New Balance MT101s. Seemed to be going well so I only brought this shoe and a pair of Teva flip-flops to China. We did a ton of walking during our trip and no running and it generally went well.

Upon return, I continued without orthotic foot support but incorporated more shoe diversity on a daily basis, including a pair of Vivobarefoot Miles, the closest to barefoot I could find in an office-appropriate shoe (as an aside, these shoes are amazing!). The rest is history...steady improvement until all my symptoms subsided. Finally!

This fall I have been doing quite a bit of trail running in Montrail Mountain Masochists and my trusting Mizunos. Unfortunately, while they do have some merits, I have been avoiding the MT101s because I have found the toe box too tight, which is causing some nerve problems (neuroma between my 2nd and 3rd toes). Open toe box (preferably anatomical last...hello shoe companies! Why are all shoes tapered in the toe box? That is the widest part of MY foot) is the nĂºmero uno criteria in a shoe right now for me.

Anyone else have similar experience getting over plantar fasciitis?

Friday, June 10, 2011


I've been dealing with plantar fasciitis for around 6 months now. As part of my regimen, I frequently peruse the interwebs looking for new insight into treatments/cures I have not yet attempted. A few months ago, I encountered several recommendations for ASTYM treatment in the comment section following a post on about plantar fasciitis. Commenters claimed that one could run significant mileage while undergoing the treatment with successful results. Sounded pretty appealing to me!

So I found a local practitioner and scheduled an appointment. ASTYM involves using specific techniques and patented tools to do soft tissue work that is intended to break up scar tissue and promote healing. Practitioners must be certified in the principles and techniques to get the tools and only the certified individual is allowed to use them. There is only one certified individual in the Tacoma area though so I had to drive all the way to Spanaway for my appt.

My physical therapist did a quick eval and then set to work rubbing these rigid plastic tools all over my legs. I had read that the treatment can be painful but did not find it overly so. I suppose this may vary from PT to PT depending on how aggressive they are (I.e, how much pressure they apply).

One of the things that appealed to me about the ASTYM philosophy is that even though I have a specific injury in my foot, treatment addresses the entire kinetic chain. I figure I have had so much wear 'n' tear on my legs resulting from various over-uses that I may benefit from an entire leg 'makeover'!

Well, my last treatment was last week and while my PF has improved, I am not sure it was the ASTYM. I definitely did not get the miraculous ability to run all I want pain free within several treatments as some have reported. Integral to the treatment were some calf strengthening exercises and various leg stretches, which may have done as much good as the 'tooling' treatment itself. However I have noticed less muscle tenderness and pain in other areas (e.g. Tibialis anterior and posterior) and I can only assume that the ASTYM treatment did bring about some of these benefits.

So in conclusion, I found ASTYM treatment to have some benefit generally (for an active person) but it did not cure my plantar fasciitis.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Plantar Fasciitis

I've been battling this crippling injury for approximately 3 months now.  It improved steadily for the first 2 months through a combination of physical therapy, easing my physical activity routines and drugs (Meloxicam).  However, over the past month it got worse again.  I think this was spurred by my "graduation" from PT at a time when I was feeling so much better, which led me to think I was invincible again resulting in over-doing it and an immediate injury setback.  Then my prescription ran out.  And it was downhill from there.

I started experimenting with different rehab techniques.  One frustrating thing about PF is there is no set course for recovery.  Info gleaned from the web provides contradictory advice (even from medical professionals).  Some say rigid shoes and orthotics and rest while others say flexible shoes, barefoot when possible and keep active.  It's all over the board.

I don't think the custom orthotics I got right about the exact time I started to remiss have helped at all.  I have now decided to take a path of moderation - I'm intent to keep running (though in moderation), keep skiing (no need to moderate there!) and keep doing my PT excercises.  I am also exploring some alternative guidance that focuses on strengthening the feet and returning them to a more natural form and function.  However, I will be wearing more supportive shoes with OTC orthotics (Superfeet) but I think I am ditching the custom orthotics, which are way too bulky and rigid.  Taping my arch for support seems to help it but I only want to resort to this technique during times of challenging activity, not for everyday.

Oh, and I am seeing a specialist for ASTYM therapy on Monday - Google it if you want to read more about this promising non-invasive treatment.

Anyway, my foot has been feeling better the last few days, which I attribute to my new philosophy and path.  I hope it continues to improve and feel the ASTYM treatment will fit in well with my current trajectory.  Wish me well!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Calf Heart Attacks

Well, I have a new injury as of this morning.  But I exaggerate - it is pretty minor and I have actually experienced it before.

This morning I did some calf raises/lowers before work but, due to limited time, I did not warm up and I did not stretch afterward.  It wasn't a major workout, just a couple sets of this one excercise I have been doing to address some Achilles tendon pain/tightness.  Immediately upon completion, I was out the door, walked to the bus stop (so I did have a little bit of cool-down), and got on the bus to work.  Everything felt fine.  Then, when I got off the bus to walk the three blocks to work, I had some sharp pain in my calf and had to limp there.

I don't think it is major.  This evening it is feeling significantly better already and I can walk without trouble.  At this point, I anticipate this only setting me back a couple of days.

When I got to work, I borrowed my co-workers "The Stick" (more on this in a second) and did some self message, which made it immediately stiffer, but also reduced the pain as my calf relaxed later.  I also iced it.  I did the Stick message once more during the day and, like I said, my calf started to feel better by the afternoon.

Anyway, this brings me to the lesson learned.  For one, I will always be warming up before doing strength training.  For two, I will be sure to stretch and cool down adequately before moving on.  I actually learned this lesson once before, in late October 2010, when I had my first "calf heart attack".

My previous episode came when I tried to squeeze in a run after work before it got dark.  I was out of town for work and therefore running in an unfamiliar locale.  My plan A did not end up being feasible and I rushed to get in something before being caught out at night (Plan B).  So I didn't warm up and the run ended up being significantly hillier than I expected.  To boot, I was running in a new shoe that is significantly more minimal (Saucony Kinvara), with a lower heel-toe drop and less structural support than I had been used to.

Recovering from this episode took me about three weeks.  A co-worker turned me on to the following advice, which assisted me greatly and got me back running in as short a time as possible: CALF HEART ATTACKS!

Which brings me to my final piece of advice: I (as well as several co-workers) now completely swear by "the Stick".  I first learned about this therapeutic device at a physical therapy clinic, while I was being treated for some knee pain about 2 years ago.  I immediately bought one and used it occasionally since.  However, when I started seeing a PT again for plantar fasciitis recently (which is a whole other story), I began using it more regularly/religiously and I really think it helps, particularly if you have tight calves (which can lead to many other problems).

More information about The Stick is available here:


Hi readers (if there are any out there...):

Well I started this blog in an attempt to chronicle my foray into the realm of distance running, which started in earnest approximately 2 years ago now.  However, recent injuries have compelled me to start to examine alternative running form and minimalism and I have been doing a TON of research lately into different philosophies and evidence-based research on these topics.

I thought it would be useful to document the changes I have gone through, how this affects me physically and share ideas and references that I encounter along the way.

Expect to see a slew of posts in the coming weeks/days trying to catch up on the past several months of "events" in my running career.

To get us started, here are a few links that I have been checking lately and found particularly useful:
1. Runblogger - Pete Larson's blog about running, which focuses on minimalism and running anatomy.
2. The Science of Running - Steve Magness on running biomechanics.
3. Newton Running - tons of advice from Danny Abshire, founder of Newton Running shoe company and author of "Natural Running"