Saturday, November 28, 2009

One Half Running Geek: Running with a Compression Sleeve

World Class runners like Paula Radcliffe can be seen racing in them, triathletes (Joe Friel's blog) wear them with all their fancy triathlete attire, and they look like the old ankle covering tube socks that we use to run with in the 1970's. Compression socks are what I am talking about. According to this Running Times article they are:

aimed at improving oxygen delivery to muscles, speeding lactic acid removal and stabilizing the lower leg for greater muscle efficiency

Running Times also reports that:

The primary rationale behind wearing compression socks in a race is that they may enhance venous return to the heart through a more efficient calf muscle pump, leading to increased endurance capacity. And there is the notion that because muscles are kept more compact, balance and proprioception are improved and muscle fatigue is minimized.

However the article states that:

at the 2007 American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting in New Orleans suggested there were no statistically significant differences in maximal oxygen consumption, heart rate or minute ventilation between treadmill runners who wore compression socks and those who did not. According to the study, conducted at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, subjects did, however, show a faster lactate recovery rate after exercise when wearing the compression socks, suggesting that compression socks might speed recovery after a strenuous workout or a race.

So wear them in a race if it suits you, but definitely wear them after the race.

That is all fine with me and I would be happy to laugh at the geekiness of fellow compressioned socked runners, except that for the past few years I keep getting calf injuries two or three times a year which keep me out of running for a week or two each time.

I have talked to a few other 50+ runners who started using compression socks for this very reason. They felt they could run when the calf still had the strain. By the way, these calf strains seem to be a very common problem for us older guys who continue running.

I decided to try out a pair after my recent (3rd time this year) calf issue. I ordered what I thought was a good deal on, the Zensah Ultra Calf and Shin Sleeve. The claims for this sleeve (not sock) were that :

Zensah Ultra Calf and Shin Sleeve... just the solution to build circulation and ease muscle strain This super soft, ultra-breathable sleeve is uniquely designed with ribbing on the front and back for 360 degrees of support to the calf and shin. Pinpoint weaving creates upward gradient compression, which helps increase blood circulation, getting oxygen to the muscles faster. Latex-free Zensah Fabric® is renowned for its thermo-regulating ability to help keep the lower leg at the right temperature-warm or cool-when relief is needed. Also aids in locking out moisture and bacteria. Recommended for those with shin pain, poor leg circulation or muscle strains. Caution: Not recommended for those with diabetes.

It all sounded good so bought the black color (why hide geekiness) and waited for the order to come from Footsmart (through Amazon). I was suprised when my $19.99 order came (plus $4.99 shipping) and there was only one sock (or sleeve). I always thought socks came in pairs, but there was only on sleeve shown in the photograph and sleeve is singular (foolish me). However they have another sleeve on Amazon that shows two sleeves and the title is singular so I was easily confused. I wasn't sure what to do with only one sleeve and I certainly don't want to order another and pay the outrageous shipping for one sock (it seems like the shipping is to pay more for the catalog they threw in with the sock). To return the sock it looks like they will charge me $6.99 plus lose the shipping I already paid!

I decided to try the sock today while I wait for a company response. I will pay for another sock, but not the shipping. If I had bought two in the first place the shipping would have been free. I ran on the treadmill for an hour, and switched the sock to the other leg halfway through. I can't say that it did anything for me, but it wasn't uncomfortable. It also got sweaty quick. If I buy a second one, the winter would be a good time to try them out. If I get another calf strain, then that is when I plan to see if the sock is really helpful. If I don't get another one and use this when injured, does that make me 1/2 of a running geek or a double running geek?

When I was researching compression socks I came across the SmoothToe Compression Sock, but didn't buy it because of the marketing gimick. It looks like a better deal now because you get both socks for $35 plus shipping. If you download "Free Report" you are promised a free pair of compression socks. But they also send two other socks for you to purchase and then you are on a plan to keep getting more socks.

Long time Gate City Striders may recognize that these socks sponsor former GCS runner David O'Meara who is the spokesman for the socks. David most recently completed his self-titled New England Marathon where he raced miles one at a time throughout New England at under 5 minute/mile pace:

On 8/30/09, David accomplished his 61-day, 2009 challenge as he completed the "SmoothToe® New England Marathon...One Mile at a Time” in 2 hours, 7 minutes, 9 seconds and 14 one-hundredths... beating his sub-5 minute mile target of 2:11.

Here you can see him doing the Bigelow Chiropractic Mile in Hollis, NH with chiropractor Brian Bigelow. Brian is a long time friend, Strider, fast runner, and the chirpractor I go to for tune-ups. Brian explains his techniques with David in this video.

Brian turns 50 this year and I am encouraging him to get back into running (he ran a sub 2:50 marathon in Chicago about 10 years ago) when he was more of a runner than a Cyclist.

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