Running Surfaces and Running Shoes

The following guest post was written by a fellow blogger, Gary Hamilton. Gary discusses the different running surfaces we face and the pros and cons of each.   (Believe me, there is a big difference!  As I run with a bit of Achilles tendonitis, I can feel the difference between packed dirt, asphalt, cement and pavers.  You can read all about it by clicking here.)

Gary also writes about the different types of running shoes that are out there, and which are the best for each type of running surface, so with out further ado, let’s look at:

Pros and Cons of Running Surfaces and Running Shoes

As more people seek to improve their health and fitness levels, many decide to make their path to wellness one on which they run to achieve their goals. Running may not be suitable for everyone, but for those whose health permits, there are important aspects to keep in mind for a safe and optimal run.

Different Types of Running Surfaces

Just as there are many different types of runners, along with styles of and reasons for running, so there are different types of surfaces to run on: grass, roads, sand, snow, track, trails, and treadmill. Journalist and former triathlete Kelly O’Mara reported advice from various professionals working in the fields of fitness, exercise physiology, and muscle and exercise research, who emphasized that runners should vary their running surfaces, but also be aware of the following conditions when considering those surfaces:

Compliance vs. Stiffness. Surfaces with compliance, such as tracks composed of synthetic materials, “give” a bit with each step and provide less trauma on the joints than stiffer surfaces, such as asphalt or concrete.

Damping properties. Surfaces, such as sand, thick grass, or dirt, have damping properties, which means they dissipate energy, and place more strain on the knee and calf.

Traction. Important for any surface, but runners can quickly lose traction on wet grass, loose gravel, packed snow, and ice.

Unevenness. Trails typically provide uneven surfaces, which can often cause runners to trip and twist or sprain ankles, and sustain other injuries upon falling.

As Marc Bloom and Steve Smythe reported for Runner’s World, each running surface has its benefits or drawbacks, pros and cons, to consider; these are listed alphabetically for convenience, not in order of importance or preference.

Grass: The close-cropped grass of golf courses, football fields, parks, and even sheep pastures offers a natural running surface.

  • Pros: Less strain and less impact, but more of a work-out on the muscles.
  • Cons: Potential for uneven and/or wet surfaces, tripping, and injuries.

Roads: Most roads are composed of either asphalt or concrete, while some are packed dirt. Each type has its own pros and cons.

Asphalt: Typically a blend of crushed rock, gravel, and tar, asphalt is slightly softer than concrete.

    • Pros: Predictable even surface, ease of measuring distances, and facilitation of maintaining an even pace.
    • Cons: Causes more strain on the body, potential for tripping or falling due to rises or arches, and potholes, and must avoid traffic and pedestrians.

Concrete: Typically composed of cement and crushed rock, concrete is the hardest surface.

    • Pros: Flatness and accessibility.
    • Cons: Hard surface is more apt to cause injuries and impact strain, and must avoid vehicles and pedestrians.

Dirt: Packed dirt of roads, tracks, or trails is easily accessible.

  • Pros: Accessibility and soft- to medium-packed dirt reduces strain or impact injuries.
  • Cons: Can become uneven and muddy, increasing the chances for injuries.

Sand: Most often associated with running on beaches, sand as running shoes 2a running surface provides quite a workout.

  • Pros: One of the few times it’s OK to run barefoot; provides resistance and strength training in varying degrees, depending on the type of sand the runner chooses to run on: the soft, squishy sand further up on the beach or in the dunes, or the harder, packed sand near the water’s edge.
  • Cons: Potential for blisters if running barefoot; soft sand may cause Achilles tendon or ankle injuries, while packed sand at the water’s edge is uneven and causes stress on the body at different points.

Snow: Those who live in cold regions that receive snow over the winter often still enjoy running outside on moderate temperature days when frostbite or other cold weather risks are not as severe.

  • Pros: Forces a slower, recovery pace of running.
  • Cons: The ever-present danger of ice that may be hiding under the snow, or the packed snow itself can be very slippery.

Track: Some older tracks are composed of cinders, while newer ones have synthetic materials.

Cinder tracks:

    • Pros: Even, measured surface.
    • Cons: Not weather-proof, as cinders react to the elements in different ways, and loose cinders can cause slipping and falling.

Synthetic tracks:

    • Pros: Compliance or “give” on impact, and easily timed, measured surface.
    • Con: Long runs become tedious and long curves on tracks provoke more strain on joints.

Trails: Even trails are different; some are packed dirt, while others wind through woodlands.

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Packed dirt: 

    • Pros: Soft to medium-packed dirt reduces strain or impact injuries.
    • Cons: Packed dirt can become uneven and muddy, increasing the chances for injuries.


    • Pros: Soft peat is easy on joints, usually level, and scenic.
    • Cons: Tree roots can cause tripping and injuries; peat and moss can become slippery.

Treadmill: A treadmill is the best option when weather doesn’t permit outdoor runs, or for those who live in areas without suitable outdoor running surface options.

  • Additional pros: Even surface, no obstacles, easy on the legs, and run at desired pace.
  • Cons: Tedious, causes profuse sweating, getting off pace may cause slipping or falling off the treadmill, and added expense of gym membership or purchasing one for home use.

Different Types of Running Shoes

It’s not advisable to do a lot of prolonged running on bare feet. To avoid injury, it’s best to wear good, high quality running shoes. There are different types of shoes, suitable for different running surfaces and for different types of runners.

MacKenzie Lobby reported for The Active Times on the 25 best running shoes for 2013 in the categories of “barefoot/minimalist, lightweight, neutral, stability and motion control shoes for road and the trail.” Shoe categories, types of runners and surfaces, and features depending on brand are included as follows:

Barefoot/minimalist: For those who enjoy natural surfaces. Features: injection-blown rubber platform; low-to-ground with zero drop from heel to toe; lightweight and flexible; reflective for nighttime running; enough cushion to prevent abrasions.

Lightweight: For those who enjoy roads and technical trails, and prefer something between barefoot and traditional shoe. Features: zero-drop platform; rocker-shape outsole for easy toe-off; lightweight and durable; cushioning; asymmetrical uppers; breathable; fast-drying.

Neutral: For those who enjoy aggressive trails in any weather. Features: foam midsole; aggressive outer sole; zero-drop with wider toe box; multi-directional treads; expansion pods for contraction and expansion.

Stability: For those who enjoy long-distance trail or road running. Features: 8mm drop; well-cushioned; dual density outer sole; triple density insole for arch support; water-proof upper membrane; gel-cushioning system.

Motion control: For those who enjoy road, track, or trail running, but have foot or leg issues and need more support. Features: dual-density foam; 12mm drop; supportive but flexible; crash pad underfoot.

Running Enthusiasts Unite

Some runners enjoy the solitary run, but others enjoy running with one or more individuals. Some running is intended purely for the health and fitness of the individual runner, while other organized running events–such as marathons–are intended to challenge groups of runners to compete with others for prizes, to raise money for charities or causes, or for the prestige of being able to say, “I completed the ______ Marathon.” One thing is certain, running enthusiasts are passionate about their choice of fitness activity and often run in spite of odds or weather conditions with a commitment that rivals the purported U.S. Postal Service creed!

Gary Hamilton is president and founder of InteliChart, a health IT company that aims to connect healthcare organizations, providers, patients, and their communities through integrated solutions like Intelichart’s healthcare integration engine.


Preventing the Leading Causes of Death in the US

I wanted to share this powerful video on how we can prevent the leading causes of death.  Important stuff, right?  I highly recommend watching all (or at least part) of this video.  To summarize and hopefully encourage you to watch it, Dr. Michael Greger presents scientific facts on how we can prevent 14 of the 15 leading causes of death. In the US, the 15 leading causes of death (in order) are:

  1. Heart Disease
  2. Cancer
  3. Respiratory Disease, (COPD, Emphysema)
  4. Stroke
  5. Accidents
  6. Alzheimer’s Disease
  7. Diabetes
  8. Kidney Failure
  9. Influenza
  10. Suicide
  11. Blood Infection
  12. Liver Disease
  13. High Blood Pressure
  14. Parkinson’s Disease
  15. Pneumonia

And interestingly enough, the medical system, when you look at side pill-bottles-684648effects from prescription drugs, medical mistakes and hospital acquired infections, results in 187,000 deaths per year making it the 3rd leading cause of death in the US!  (Good reason to avoid unnecessary doctor visits).

CSA 2 ALL of these leading causes of death, with the exception of accidents, can be prevented or combated with a strict vegetarian (i.e.: vegan) diet.

Don’t worry if you are a devoted meat eater.  Small changes in your diet like adding in greens at every meal and cutting out meat a few days a week will still have a positive influence on your health.

But, for me, I have found the vegan route to be the best option.  For example, in one year, my cholesterol has dropped 38 points, and my triglycerides (the measure of fat in the blood) dropped 104 points!  That’s proof enough for me.

Here is the link to the video

Time in the Garden has Mental and Physical Health Benefits

I spent a few hours yesterday working in my garden and with my flower boxes.  

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I enjoy gardening, it is fun, the results are rewarding,  it get me out in the fresh air, it provides exercise and much needed vitamin D in the form of sunshine!    As it turns out these heath benefits of gardening are well documented by research:

Gardening improves our mental attitude.  Did you know that according to a Texas A&M study, gardeners have more “zest for life” and greater optimism.   A recent study in the Netherlands found gardening for even just 30 minutes fights stress even better than other relaxing leisure activities.  Not only did these people report being in a better mood, but they had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

 Yard work and gardening is a form of  weight-bearing exercise (pulling weeds, digging holes, lugging around soil, mulch, etc).  A University of Arkansas study found that women gardeners have lower rates of osteoporosis than women who just do aerobic exercise.

Studies also show that gardening help people with depression and anxiety disorders.  As a matter of fact, there is a whole field of medicine called horticultural therapy that helps people deal with depression, anxiety and sleep issues. 

Some research suggests that the physical activity associated with gardening can help lower the risk of developing dementia.  Studies have shown that older adults who garden regularly had a 36% and 47% lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners.  While these studies are preliminary, they point to the idea that the physical and mental activity involved in gardening may have a positive influence on the mind.

Gardening helps calm agitation, leading to better sleep patterns and improved quality of sleep.

And of course if you grow vegetables, there is the nutritional benefit of eating fresh veggies!






Juicing — More Benefits

You’ve read about how I love juicing.  The following post was written by my daughter, Kelsey and offers some more insight into the benefits of juicing

If you have worked juicing into your diet consistently, you’ve probably already noticed a change in your body.  That’s because raw foods hold more nutrients than cooked food and eating a nutrient rich diet is better and more effective than fat-free, low-calorie, low carbohydrates, and other trendy and exclusionary attempts to lose weight.

Using a technique known as Kirlian Photography, nutritionists have captured the difference in life force between a piece of broccoli that was steamed broccoli(left) and a piece of broccoli that is a raw, “living” organism.  The life force or energy emanating from the raw broccoli is significantly more than the cooked, even though it was only steamed for two minutes!

“Great,” you think, “raw broccoli, that sounds delicious.” —  Don’t sass me yet!  You already know how to juice raw fruits and vegetables together to make a great tasting liquid packed with energy and nutrition (here is just one delicious recipe). Now you can discover how to make solid meals from raw foods and healthy, crunchy and satisfying snacks; ladies and gentleman it is time to invest in a dehydrator.

You can use a dehydrator to make your own banana chips, kale chips (delicious and rather expensive when you buy them already prepared), raw breads, and more. degydratorDehydrators range in price from $40 – $400 depending on your needs.

Checkout this recipe for raw vegan falafel with lemon garlic aioli!

Healthy Restaurant Options

Following is a guest post by Kelsey Duke.  She offers some practical advise for eating out and still eating healthy — not always easy!  As she lives in the DC area, she highlights some DC restaurants.  Here in the Seacoast of New Hampshire, some of my favorites are Blue Moon Evolution and Good Karma Cafe both in Exeter, NH.  What are some health conscious restaurants in your area?

Eating Healthy when Dining Out

Eating at restaurants is an acquired skill. As a publicist for restaurants, I eat out often, which as you can imagine can derail even the most dedicated healthy eater (former vegan here) and cause some serious stress. But there is hope! Common sense says to avoid the fried foods, look for salads and greens, and don’t touch the complementary bread or tortilla chips. But beyond that, restaurants are consciously changing menus to please the more aware consumer.  This past year in food, kale, quinoa and sprouted grains popped up on menus everywhere. Here’s a few other trends that provide hope for the future:

quincenera saladCalorie counts

Recently, some parts of the country have started requiring restaurants to list calorie counts next to menu items. Amongst average diners the general consensus is still, “I don’t want to know.” However, whether they mean to our not, people are choosing healthier options. Dallas Tex-Mex favorite Mi Cocina recently opened a restaurant in Chevy Chase, MD, where they were required by law, for the first time to list calories on menus. “It’s amazing, our biggest sellers in that location are the quinceñera salad (pictured at left)  and the vegetable tamales, which is different from the best selling items in Dallas stores,” says Heather Hancock, Director of Sales and Marketing for Mi Cocina.

Smaller portions:

Here in DC, small portions are a big trend. Don’t expect to save money on these but you may save some room in your stomach. Famed restaurateur vegetable tamalesJosé Andrés has several restaurants serving Spanish or Mexican style tapas (worlds of difference between the two). Dim Sum is also becoming ever more popular, a style of Cantonese food prepared as bite-sized or individual portions and traditionally served on small plates or in small steamer baskets (pictured right).

Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options:

With food allergies on the rise (warning sign anyone? Maybe the FDA can explain this but they probably will not tell the public, but I digress), restaurants have started to provide several options for picky diners, on and sometimes off the menu. In Washington DC’s renowned restaurant and wine bar, Ripple, Executive Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley says of her menu, which changes daily, “I am always sure to keep healthy gluten-free dishes on the menu. I try to do a gluten-free fish option and a meat option as well.”

The other day I went to a restaurant that serves beer, bourbon, and barbeque exclusively, and to my surprise and absolute delight, they had vegan wings, vegan ribs, and BBQ tofu tacos on the menu! Though several veg-friendly restaurants have popped up in the area (my favorite in DC has to be Busboys & Poets), if you can’t find one near you, stick to non-American cuisines like Indian, Chinese, and Vietnamese, which always have several vegetarian options.  America should catch up soon, maybe owhen the government isn’t as full of Monsanto emplyees… and there I go again.

I’d love to hear some of some of your favorite restaurants that offer healthy (maybe even vegetarian and vegan) options!

Have you tried Bikram Yoga?

Following is a guest post written by Kelsey Duke (my daughter) who is a Bikram yoga proponent.  Her experience makes me strongly consider going back to Bikram yoga!

I find myself in the hot room for the first time in over six months, after half a year of inconsistent workouts and trips to the gym. I recently started a new job that requires long hours, happy hours, and fancy dinners that drag on for hours. When I walk in, the heat hits me as soon as I walk in but my brain has been here before, instantly it seeks to shut off the panic mechanism, “you’re okay, this is what you need.”

I lay my mat down strategically in the middle of the room since I’m not new but I’m not entirely ready for this. When class begins with breathing exercises I notice that my breath has become more shallow, my stomach looser and my knees wobbly. “Oh no,” I think to myself. Then “just breathe, you made it to class just do what you can,” a mantra echoed by the yoga teacher.


Then an amazing thing happens, muscle memory. My postures come back, with more balance than before and almost the same depth. My mind is already trained to focus on breathing, listen to the teacher’s constant stream of instruction, and focus my attention and thus all my energy on myself.

When I started this class I thought it would be a good supplement to my workouts, a nice stretch, another way to burn calories. But as I leave with my wet towel and heavy mat, I’m reminded why I need to practice Bikram Yoga more. My mind is clear, my face is radiant, my energy is new and positive thoughts come easily.

For the first time in months my entire being is calm. The worrisome cycle of thoughts, the restless legs, the rash decisions are gone, replaced with a natural, easy peace. “This is why I love it,” I think to myself, “this is how I come to know peace.”

Bandaloop — The Book and the Restaurant

I first read Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins in 1985, shortly after it jitterbug perfumewas published in paperback.  It is the story of Alobar, an ancient king and beet farmer,  who discovers the secret of immortality from the Bandaloop.  I had really enjoyed the book, and I so I kept it all these years.

The book has moved with me 5 times since then, although in the last move remained in a box of old books.  I recently rediscovered the book and put it in a prominent spot on my bookshelf as I remembered that I loved the book and thought someday I’d reread it.  That someday came, and I did reread it and once again, thoroughly enjoyed it!  I got a lot more of the philosophical message out of it this time, now that I am older and perhaps wiser!

Saturday night, I went to a restaurant in Kennebunkport, Maine called Bandaloop.  It was a great restaurant, serving all organic and locally sourced food.  They even had tofu and tempeh entrees.  I had the special fennel soup to start, and the 3-grain tempeh in twin sauces of  zesty Asian peanut sauce and cilantro-pistachio pesto with saffron Basmati rice.   It was delicious!

 I was wondering if the name of the restaurant, Bandaloop was a coincidence when I saw a menu item:

Alobar’s Roasted Beets and Flying Goat Farm Goat Cheese

WOW, the restaurant is definitely named for the book!  Then I noticed a note on the back of the menu confirming the connection and reminding us to “live long, laugh often, dance daily”