Category Archives: Running

Invisible Shoes

As part of my minimalist approach to running, I’ve been experimenting with various types of footwear. I’ve tried running barefoot at the beach and even at the track, but with all the things that you could cut yourself on in the streets of NYC, I’ve been looking for the next closest thing.

A lot of people have suggested that I try running in Vibram Five Fingers, but I’m turned off by the price tag. When I came across Invisible Shoes, which cost less than half the price of a pair of Vibrams (for a custom pair nonetheless!), I knew I was on to something.

Invisible Shoes are the closest thing that I have seen to actual barefoot running. They’re based on the famous “huaraches” that the Tarahumara Indians wear when they run. Putting them on made me feel like a Native American warrior!

They also offer a do-it-yourself kit, where you can make your own huaraches by purchasing the raw materials. Without the cost of labor, the price drops even more.

The first few times I went running in my Invisible Shoes, I had a little trouble getting the laces tight enough to keep the sandal on my foot without over-doing it and making them too tight. Once I found the sweet spot, however, the Invisible Shoe felt great.

Running in Invisible Shoes will keep you on your toes–literally! The few times when I lost focus and let my form get sloppy while running in them, I was immediately brought back to the hard reality of the pavement.

Like all things, it’s best to gradually transition to your new running style in order to let your body get conditioned. You’ll likely be using muscles in your feet that you’re not used to, and if you aren’t already practicing the forefoot running technique, you’ll need to get used to that as well.

I going to stick with my plan to run the upcoming Brooklyn Half Marathon in my Vans slip-ons, but perhaps at the next race you’ll spot me sporting Invisible Shoes.

Rethinking Running Sneakers

The beach is a great place for barefoot running.

I’ve run many races over the years, usually wearing high-tech sneakers and my heart rate monitor, while meticulously selecting the best running playlist for my iPod. When I run the Brooklyn half marathon next month, however, I am going to try something new; I’m planning to leave all those things at home.


A few months ago I made this post about running sneakers, in which I proposed that high-tech footwear was ideal for safety and performance. However, I have since come to reconsider my opinion on the matter.

I’ve been a proponent of forefoot running for a long time, but my recent experiments with barefoot running have led me to realize how highly cushioned shoes decrease your ability to sense the way your foot is landing; this is potentially the root of most running injuries.

Of course barefoot running is great if you’re on the grass or the beach, but I’ve even gone barefoot at the track. I still prefer to wear something on my feet for road-running, but it doesn’t need to be anything fancy–just something comfortable and lightweight. In fact, the less cushioning the better. The same way that wearing thick gloves will decrease your dexterity with your hands, wearing overly cushioned sneakers can make your feet heavy and clumsy.

I'm planning to run 13.1 miles in these!

The reason so many people tend to get running injuries is more often poor form than poor footwear. Running barefoot or in minimal footwear will quickly improve your running form for the simple reason that bad form actually hurts when you don’t have an inch of padding under your feet. While that padding can be enough to desensitize you to the impact, it isn’t enough to protect your joints. Thin soled shoes will force you to be light on your feet, which will likely improve your speed as well as your safety.


Lately I’ve been running in Vans slip-ons, a casual sneaker that almost feels more like a slipper. They are very comfortable and as an added bonus, I don’t ever have to worry about my shoelaces coming untied! I might get some weird looks at the start line for the Brooklyn half, but I’ve never been one to let that bother me.

(Editor’s note: Check out this post on running the Brooklyn Half Marathon in Vans to find out how that went.)

Going Caveman in Mexico

Getting primal up on this bitch, er, beach.

I’m no stranger to caveman workouts and I love to keep variety in my exercise regimen. So during my visit to Mexico this week, I decided to take my primal training style to a whole new level.

Running barefoot on the beach, hiking through trails and climbing trees have been just a few of the activities I’ve explored during my time south of the border.

Since I began running, I have been a proponent of wearing high-tech footwear, but since reading Born to Run, I’ve been rethinking my stance on the importance of running sneakers.

It seemed fitting to experiment with barefoot running in the beaches and backwoods of Mexico–near the home of the legendary Tarahumara Indians, who are famous for their ultra-distance runs in minimal footwear.

Watch me play Tarzan in the video below:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhDoF7cFPFU

Where to Run in NYC

I’m sometimes surprised by how often my clients tell me they can’t find anywhere to run in the city. I tell them, “If there is ground ahead of you and you can put one foot in front of the other, you can run.”

Having said that, there are some spots that are more conducive to running for fitness than others. Three of my favorite places to run in NYC are the West Side highway, the East River path and, of course, New York City’s famous Central Park.

The path on the West Side Highway was built fairly recently and runs along several miles of the city, from lower Manhattan up past midtown. If you head south, the path leads into Battery Park City, one of NYC’s hidden gems for runners. If you’re going in the other direction, you’ll pass Chelsea Piers and you can follow the path north for another few miles before turning back.

For those of you closer to the Lower East Side or East Village, you may prefer to run along the East River. You’ll need to cross an overpass to get on the other side of the FDR expressway, but there are several entrances. Once on the other side, you have a few options. You can run on the path adjacent to the highway, you can run along the esplanade (which is still under construction) or you can check out the running track near the East 6th street overpass.

If you’re running south, you will eventually cross through the South Street Seaport and you can wrap around and come up the West Side. If you’re heading north, however, watch out! The path thins out around midtown and you could find yourself running on the highway if you’re not careful!

Of course, there’s Central Park–the granddaddy of them all. With its famous reservoir, over 6 miles of rolling hills and several trails off the beaten path, Central Park offers something for everyone. Whether you’re a resident of New York City or just visiting, make sure to take advantage of the city’s nicest natural resource.

Related Topics:
Best Hotels in NYC
Forefoot Running
Threshold Running

Forefoot Running

When I tell people that I love distance running, I often get reprimanded. “You’re going to blow out your knees,” people warn me.

I don’t know if they genuinely think they are going to save me from the perils of ACL surgery or if people just like to get on a soapbox, but it’s getting old.

Distance running is not inherently bad. When running injuries occur, it is often due to improper training and/or running with bad form.

I might get in trouble for saying this, but we are each responsible for our own fate. If you take good care of your body and you know how to safely progress, there shouldn’t be an issue. Too many people get it in their head that they want to run a marathon, but they can barely even run a mile! If you don’t build up to longer distances gradually (the general rule is to increase your total mileage by no more than ten percent each week), you are setting yourself up for overuse injuries.

That, and for crying out loud, stop landing on your damn heels!

In the book Born to Run, Christopher McDougal suggests that modern running sneakers (Nikes in particular) are to blame for Americans’ poor running technique. He points out that the over-cushioning prevents people from realizing that their form is detrimental to their joints. Ironically, the very footwear that was designed to prevent these injuries is often the culprit behind them.

If you try running barefoot, you’ll quickly see for yourself how unpleasant it can be to land on your heels!

While I do like to run in sneakers sometimes, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be mindful of proper form.

Running on your heels isn’t only risky for your joints, it’s also not a very efficient way to get the most out of each stride. By leaning forward and landing on your mid-foot and toes, you keep your momentum and allow gravity to do some of the work for you. Whether you are a recreational jogger, or a triathlon competitor, proper running technique is key.

Several different names for the technique of leaning forward and landing on the forefoot have been used. A Russian doctor named Nicolas Romanov coined the term “pose running” in the late seventies and has written a great deal about it.

Many other books have addressed the problems with landing on your heels, such as Chi Running by Danny Dreyer.

Before you decide that “running isn’t for you,” make sure you fully explore all the evidence. Don’t be in a rush to get to the finish line, instead try to simply enjoy each step along the way.

Threshold Training

Threshold training is one of the best ways to improve performance in middle distance running. Sometimes called tempo running, threshold training involves trying to take your body right to the edge, without falling off the cliff.

If you were to rate your intensity on a scale of 1-10 during a run, a comfortable jog might rank as a 6, with an all out sprint being a 10. While interval running has you alternate between those two extremes, the goal of threshold training is to stay at an 8 or 9 for as long as possible, remaining on the brink of exhaustion without crossing over the line.

Some people like to use heart rate monitors during threshold training to monitor their intensity. You can also use a stop watch, or simply use the honor system and go by your perceived level of effort based on the 1-10 scale.

After a 5-10 minute warm-up, your threshold run should last between 20-45 minutes. Most people cannot maintain a high level of intensity for much longer than that, though really fit people might be able to push it to an hour.

Threshold training is a great way to increase your lactic acid threshold, which in turn will increase your speed. Lactic acid builds up as a by-product of muscle contraction during exercise. A person whose body has been conditioned to intense training runs is better able to handle the build up of lactic acid and therefore doesn’t experience the nausea that can be associated with it.

Over time, speeds that used to seem fast can start to feel comfortable. When used once or twice a week in a program that also includes high intensity interval training and active recovery workouts, threshold training can be a great tool to increase both your speed and your mental toughness.

Active Recovery

After a hard workout, you might be dreading the soreness which will inevitably ensue over the next 24-48 hours. Your instinct could be to take the next day off from exercising altogether. Not so fast!

Active recovery allows you to keep the momentum in terms of your fitness AND can potentially decrease the lactic acid build-up that’s partially to blame for muscle soreness.

Instead of taking the day off, try following your high intensity training day with a low intensity workout. For example, if you did sprints on Saturday, you might just want to do an easy jog on Sunday.

The principle behind active recovery can also be applied within the context of a single workout. When used this way, active recovery refers to following an intense exercise with a less intense one.

Rather than simply resting in between sets of pull-ups, an active recovery workout might have you alternating pull-ups with a lower intensity exercise that allows your arms to rest while keeping your heart rate up, like jumping jacks.

While I am a proponent of daily exercise, that doesn’t mean that every workout has to be an all-out balls-to-the-wall effort. Varying your intensity is the key to maintaining a daily workout regimen without over-training.


Trainer Tip:

Remember to listen to your body–use active recovery when it feels appropriate–but don’t start using it as a rationalization to slack off.

High Intensity Interval Training

track signInterval training is often touted as the best way to burn fat and expend high amounts of energy during a workout. It is also great for people who don’t feel that they have a lot of time to devote to fitness. A high intensity interval training session (sometimes called HIIT) can be completed in under 30 minutes.

HIIT alternates between rounds of high intensity exercise immediately followed by a low intensity recovery period. That recovery period allows you to renew your focus (both physically and mentally) before having to go all out again. While interval training can be done using any cardio modality like running, biking, or stair climbing, I’m a runner, so I’ll use running as an example.

After a 5 minute warmup (a brisk walk to a light jog depending on your fitness level), you would begin your first high intensity interval, consisting of running as hard as you can for at least 30 seconds. You can push yourself hard for 30 seconds, right?

Following that, your intensity goes back down to where you were during your warm up. Psychologically, you can use this rest to help get through the hard part. Repeat this process several times and end with a 5-10 minute cool down (and some stretching).

The thing with HIIT that a lot of people tend to overlook is that it only works effectively if you really push yourself on the high intensity portions. When you get to the recovery portion, you should be out of breath and totally gassed. You also have to be prepared to turn the heat back up right away once you are recovered, which can be very demanding mentally as well as physically. Remember, though, you can’t get fit without doing the work.

HIIT is one time when I do advocate the use of treadmills because of the convenience of the timer and the ease of measuring speeds and distances. Nothing beats doing an interval workout at a track with a stopwatch, though, if you have that option.

Trainer Tip:

While HIIT cardio is a great way to maximize your time, it should not be the only type of cardio in your routine. Threshold training and active recovery days are also important components of a well rounded running program.

More of Al's Best Running Playlists

Running w MusicWhat makes for a great running playlist?

Well besides the obvious stuff, like picking your favorite genre (I like rock music) or finding songs with inspiring lyrics, I like to find songs that I can sync my pacing with rhythmically.

When I time my foot strike with the beat, it helps me to keep my footing even. It also enhances my focus when I match my movements to the music.

Depending on how fast I want to try to run, I can select songs with various beats per minute (bpm). The bpm of the song correlates with the amount of strides I’ll take in a minute. I usually take around 170 strides per minute, but I’ll sometimes go a bit faster or slower depending on the circumstances.

Here are some songs I like to warm up to:

Judith–A Perfect Circle–Mer De Noms
Long Division–Death Cab for Cutie–Narrow Stairs
Another Space Song–Failure–Fantastic Planet
I Want You So Hard (Boys Bad News)–Eagles Of Death Metal–Death By Sexy

Below is a playlist comprised of faster songs. I used this playlist for my recent 4 mile race:

Closer–Nine Inch Nails–The Downward Spiral
Heroes–Shinedown–Us And Them
Fill My Little World–The Feeling–Twelve Stops And Home
Elite–Deftones–White Pony
Dandelion–Audioslave–Out Of Exile
Sound Of Madness–Shinedown–The Sound Of Madness
Defy You–The Offspring–Greatest Hits
Blood And Thunder–Mastodon–Leviathan

Click here for my marathon playlist.

What are your favorite songs to run to?

Cross Training for Runners (and Everyone!)

Cycling can be used as cross training for runners.

Cycling can be used as cross training for runners.

I hurt my foot the other day and didn’t feel up to running; even walking was causing me some discomfort. I knew that it would be foolish to try to run, but I really didn’t want to blow off my training altogether. Figuring that the impact of my foot hitting the ground while walking was the main cause for the discomfort that I was feeling, I decided to do some impact-free cross training. Starting off on the elliptical trainer, I figured I would just take it from there. Once I got into it, I started feeling pretty good!

However, after fifteen minutes on the elliptical trainer, I started to lose my patience (I’m not a big fan of cardio machines!), but instead of stopping my workout, I switched it up and got on a bike for fifteen minutes. My foot felt fine on the bike as well. Finally, feeling a bit frustrated that I wasn’t able to keep my heart rate as high as I wanted on the bike, I made another switch, this time to the stair stepper. Without even really planning for it, I completed a pretty decent cross training workout by the time I was done!

Cross training is basically just a fancy sounding way of saying “doing different stuff.” Mixing up different types of cardio helps to keep your workout from getting monotonous–and it’s better for your body, too. Your body is capable of many different movement patterns, and they all effect your muscles in slightly different ways. If you are a runner, cycling can be a great alternative on those days when you don’t feel up to running for whatever reason. Conversely, if you are more of a cyclist, then you can use running as cross training. As always, you are encouraged to experiment and find what feels best for you.

Cardio machines like the elliptical trainer and exercise bike might be nice alternatives to running, especially for people with injuries or ailments, because they can potentially cause less stress to your joints and connective tissues. But don’t feel confined to the gym! Get out in the real world and use your body. The gym is only practice for the real thing–life itself.