Running With Sticks?

Jannine Myers

There’s a little hotel around the corner from our house which seems to accommodate mostly high-school athletes. During the winter months I often see young Japanese guys and girls, dressed in their school sports uniforms, exercising and running in small groups around our neighborhood. I love seeing the girls run, because their short and fluid strides somehow look so graceful. In fact, if it wasn’t for their graceful strides and postures, I may not have picked up on a very interesting observation – some of the girls run with sticks!

Sticks, you say? Yes, short sticks that look like relay batons, or drum sticks. The first time I saw one of the female athletes running with sticks in her hands, I had to do a double-take and turn back to see if I had seen correctly. And even then, I wondered at first if maybe she was also a music student trying to save time by practicing visual drum beats while getting her mandatory run workout completed. That seemed a little far-fetched, so I scratched that idea and put the whole thing out my mind – until, I saw more of the female athletes running with sticks. That’s it, I thought, I need to find out what those sticks are about.

A little bit of google searching led me to two websites, the first of which was:

Former Marine Corps ROTC student, Shawn Hussey, designs and crafts mostly walking and hiking sticks, but he also makes running sticks, which according to his website, “can assist in the balance of your running.” Okay, so now we are getting somewhere – running sticks may assist with balance, thus, also help to improve running form.

A sample of Shawn’s work

Remember Anna’s post a while back, about running form and arm swing? (You can check it out here, if you want a recap:
In her post, Anna talked about how a good arm swing involves bending the elbows at about 90 degrees, with the hands held high and in a relaxed state, and then swinging the arms forward so that they lightly graze the bottom of the rib cage.

This girl looks like she has a good arm swing – but for some runners, like myself,  keeping the arms  in a controlled and straight-forward swinging motion does not come naturally. 

The second website I came across, which was referred to me by Shawn Hussey, is:

These look more like javelins than sticks, but what do I know!

The owner of this website proposes an interesting theory: he suggests that, because our Primitive Ancestors (PA) ran barefoot, and with some type of stick or spear in hand, modern-day runners can simulate the way in which our PAs ran and enjoy a much more perfect form of running. Here’s a short excerpt from the website: “When you ‘run with sticks,’ the running sticks counterbalance your weight forward, toward the toes and off the heels. That is the correct way to run.”

I can’t say I agree with all the information presented on run-with-sticks website, but by all means, take a look and arrive at your own conclusions. What I will say though, is that running sticks seem like they may be a practical tool to use on training runs if you are looking to improve your arm swing and overall form. And if the Japanese girls I have seen running with sticks are proof that they might work, then I’m convinced.

(By the way, if you do consider trying to run with sticks, I’m sure a couple of sticks picked up on “one of our trail runs” will suffice) 

WOOT Goes to Cali!

Jannine Myers

Love, sweat, tears, laughter – and wine! 

A couple of weeks ago a group of original WOOTers, including myself and Anna, flew from various locations to reunite for a few days and run a marathon together. The last time we traveled to a race together was in 2011, when we all met in New Zealand to run the Tarawera Ultramarathon. There have been other races too, such as the Mongolia 100k and marathon, and the Arizona Rock’n’Roll marathon, but our reunion last weekend in California was the first one since 2011 that all of us could attend.

Since we all flew in to San Francisco on different days and times, we split into three groups and met on Thursday evening at the Eurospa Inn in Calistoga. The marathon we had signed up to run was the Napa Valley marathon, to be held a few days later on Sunday March 3rd. With just a short amount of time to spend together, we endeavored to make the most of it.

A glimpse of what it looked like as we ran the marathon

Our first evening was spent in Claudia’s hotel room. One of the members of our group, Stephanie, traveled from Hawaii with her husband Nick, and their four month old son Phenix. Claudia is Nick’s mother, and she drove all the way from Idaho to see her baby grandson, and, cook for us! We had the good fortune of eating at least three meals prepared by Claudia and I am not exaggerating when I say that they were all amazing. So much so, that we have recruited her as our new team chef.

One of the meals Claudia prepared for us – the fruits and vegetables were grown in her own garden!

Friday morning was relaxing; we congregated around the closed fire place centered in the middle of the outdoor patio, and enjoyed catching up over fresh cups of coffee and delicious home-made breakfast foods. A couple of hours later, and after a quick change from PJs into running clothes, we set out on a short and leisurely-paced run. The warm sun, the vibrantly colored flowers, and the peacefully quiet streets, provided the ideal setting for a mid-morning run.

Lazy morning – cozy fire, fresh coffee, great company

Beautiful flowers everywhere

Gorgeous rose bushes

Quiet, tranquil streets

In the afternoon we drove to the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel and Spa, to collect our race packets and bags. Since the Napa Valley marathon restricts participation to no more than 2500 runners, the expo was relatively small but somehow more accommodating and friendlier. One of the booths was assigned to a Clif Bar representative, who gave Anna directions to the company’s wine store in St.Helena (Velo Vino) – no need to tell you where our next stop was!

At the expo
Back row: Tiffany, Amy, Anna, Corinne (Kathleen’s daughter)
Front Row: Stephanie and baby Phenix, Andrea, Jannine, Kathleen

Who would have guessed that the Clif Bar company would branch out and expand their product line to include wines? I’m not sure how good they are, but judging from the jubilant mood of those in our group who took part in the wine tasting, I’d say they rate fairly well.

Wine tasting at Velo Vino

From Velo Vino, we drove just a little further north and stopped at the Culinary Institute for dinner. Thank goodness this was two nights before the marathon and not the night before, because I don’t think any of us walked out of there without feeling as if we were in a type of food comatose. That said however, the meals were outstanding (complimented even more with accompanying wine), and worth every calorie and cent!

Ready to go eat at the Culinary Institute

Saturday was another glorious day. After breakfast we took a stroll through the main street of Calistoga and turned off on Brannan Street towards the Silverado Trail, which is where the race would start. We were keen to see just how far away the start was from our inn, since we planned to walk there the next morning. Not too bad – it turned out to be no more than maybe a mile and a half away.

Walking to the Silverado Trail
Look – no lines! If only it were like this on race day.

Race day is always filled with a mixture of raw emotions, and race day in Calistoga was no exception. Some of us were nervous, some of us were excited, and some of us were both! One thing we all felt however, was a huge amount of gratitude towards our awesome support team, made up of Amy, Nick, and Claudia.

Amy injured herself several weeks ago and had to resign herself to coming out as a supporter instead of runner. I think the others would agree with me when I say that her dedication and commitment to supporting us, was equal to, if not greater than our efforts to run a good race. As a supporter, Amy was up around 4:30am on race day, giving us all a big shout-out on Facebook, and then making sure we were all ready on time and equipped with everything we needed.

Other less-invested supporters would probably have slept in and driven out to the finish line later in the morning, but Amy walked with us in the cold air down to the start, wished us all good luck, and then vigorously cheered us on at miles 13 and 16, and again as we approached the finish line. We were able to easily see her in the crowd (along with Nick and Claudia), because she had made neon colored tshirts with the words WOOT Crew marked across the chest (even baby Phenix had his own WOOT Crew tshirt/onesie).

Nick and Amy enjoying a much-deserved glass of wine

The race ended in Napa Valley, along with weeks of progressive and deliberate training, and also met and unmet goals. Tears of both joy and disappointment were shed, hugs were given all round, and praise dished out for the amount of sheer sweat and determination required to run a marathon. With nothing left but a few,  final hours together, we did what we do best: we reminisced, we planned, we joked and laughed – and of course, we raised our glasses (a few times) to celebrate what has become a truly unique and special group friendship.

Our awesome super-mom! Steph ran 13 miles, then nursed baby Phenix before making her way with Nick and Claudia to cheer the rest of us on at the finish line.


Stay tuned for more WOOT adventures abroad….. 

Diet and Lifestyle Choices


by Anna Boom

HBO recently produced a four part series called, Weight of the Nation. I found it on iTunes and downloaded and watched while on a flight.

It is a fascinating series and highly recommend it if you have any interest in health. They cover every aspect of obesity and health from the point of food choices, the food industry, to our children and our bodies.

You can find all the information here:

During the first segment, Consequences, addresses genetic disposition versus environment, or nature vs. nurture. What is the deciding factor? The good news is that it is a combination of both. Dr. Jack Shonkoff, MD who is the director of the Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University says, “Is there a genetic predisposition to obesity? Absolutely. Is obesity caused by environment and behaviors? Absolutely.”

I say this is good news because we can change behavior and our environment for ourselves and our children. We can’t change our genetics, but what we do every day, what we choose to eat and drink, the small choices we make, that is up to us.

Make the healthy choice: move your body, prepare nourishing foods, encourage your family and friends to join and support you.
All feedback welcomed and encouraged. Let me know your thoughts, please.
And come out and run with us soon!!

Nutrition and Performance
by Jannine Myers

A few weeks ago I posted about carbohydrate-loading in preparation for a marathon. Along with carbohydrate-loading, runners also tend to carefully plan fueling strategies for the race itself (what to eat and drink immediately before, during, and after the race). All of this planning is done in anticipation of hopefully running a great race.

An analogy similar to the scenario above, is that which involves college students who stay up late the nights before an exam, trying desperately to cram-study because they left it too late to adequately prepare. The end result may be a good grade, but the reality is that an excellent grade may have been obtained if consistent study patterns had been established throughout the duration of the course.

Race day performances are a little like final exam grades – the end result is largely dependent on how well you prepare for the event. If your preparation started just days before the race, with some quick fueling calculations and a few nutrient adjustments, it’s possible you might run a good race. But if your preparation started months earlier, and is essentially in an ever-evolving state of progression where you are daily observing good nutritional habits, then it’s possible that you’ll run a great race.

Follow with me for a minute – does it make sense to follow a carefully-structured nutrition plan for just a few days before a race, in the hopes of running well, but then quickly revert to bad eating habits once the race is over. If you enjoy running races, and if you’re a competitive runner (in the sense that you want to keep improving on your previous race times), then one way to achieve that is to establish a structured and healthy eating plan that becomes a permanent habit and way of life.

I don’t endorse any specific diets, as I believe everyone needs to find their own path when it comes to nutrition, but what I do encourage, is choosing to eat as much as possible foods in their natural state, and to avoid as much as possible foods that are processed and high in added fats, sugars, and salt. If you can do this 80 to 90% of the time, then that leaves a little room to indulge and live a little, without greatly compromising your ability to perform well.   

Ow! My knees!

Jeanne Goodes
AFAA Certified Personal Trainer

As an athlete, chances are you have experienced knee pain.  As runners, the chances of experiencing knee pain is higher due to several repetitive factors:  the wear and tear on the knee joint, the impact on the knee (body weight plus force of impact on the ground), and the movement pattern of the knee.  Added to these repetitive knee stresses, running also recruits, engages, and stresses the cartilage, muscles, tendons, and ligaments that help the knee (and body) function properly while running.

While running injuries run the gamut from foot to shin to hips (and then some!), this article will address  one of the more common knee injuries – anterior knee pain – also known as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFS) or  Runner’s Knee (which may also be called IT Band Syndrome). 

In very basic terms, our knee is meant to track up and down.  When the knee is not tracking properly, our knee is mal-tracking, or out of alignment.  Anterior knee pain usually occurs when the knee “slides” to the outside of the knee, when the knee is bent.   This misalignment causes friction of the articular cartilage that lines the back of the kneecap, which is now rubbing against the underlying bone.  As this continues to occur (from the repetitive motion of running), damage to the articular cartilage increases, as does the pain. 

 Interestingly enough, female runners are at a greater risk for mal-tracking of the knee joint.  While the condition may affect anyone, usually due to improper biomechanics or muscle imbalances, female runners experience this injury more often than male runners.  Because females have wider hips, the angle of their femur (thigh bone) from the knee to the hip, is greater than the angle of a male’s femur.  This wider angle directly impacts the female at the knee, creating an increased risk of mal-tracking.   There are other risk factors that may impact anterior knee pain (whether female or male) – weak hip abductor muscles (weak gluteus medius), overpronation of the feet, quad muscle imbalances, etc.

Anterior, meaning front, knee pain complaints begin at the front of the knee.  Because the knee is a joint, it moves around, so actually pinpointing the pain may be difficult.  So, how do you know if you are experiencing anterior knee pain, as opposed to the normal aches and pains you feel after a long or hard run?   Anterior knee pain usually flares up at the end of a run, and may even feel worse the next day or when standing up after sitting.   You may also experience anterior knee pain when walking down stairs. 

After confirming anterior knee pain with a medical professional, treatment of anterior knee pain will focus on correcting the cause of the injury.   If anterior knee pain is caught early enough, effective short term treatment may include the old R.I.C.E. method – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation and anti-inflammatories, followed by corrective action.

For many of us, prevention of anterior knee pain can be as easy as having a properly fitted running shoe, strong muscles, and good flexibility.  If you are not sure how to find the proper running shoe, it is highly recommended that you make an appointment for a professional shoe fitting, as well as make an appointment for a professional gait analysis.  Most running stores have professional shoe fittings and the ability to analyze your gait.  If this is unavailable to you, there are many other resources to use:  biomechanics trainers, physical therapists, athletic trainers, personal trainers, sports medicine professionals, etc.

One of the many ways to determine a muscle imbalance is to look at your squat.  If your knees turn inward, you may have weak hip abductor muscles (gluteus medius).  Muscle strengthening exercises may help correct this.  Again, any of the aforementioned professionals can aid you in correcting muscle imbalances.

As always, flexibility is key to preventing injuries of many kinds.  With anterior knee pain, it is imperative to make sure your quads, glutes, and IT band, in particular, are flexible.  A good stretch, warm-up, and cool down are essential elements to flexibility.  Stretches and myofascial release using a foam roller are ideal for increasing flexibility.   Sports massage will also be beneficial in stretching and working out muscles.

This article is not meant to diagnose knee pain, but rather to inform runners of a common knee injury, and most importantly, how to prevent it.  As with all injuries, please seek the help of a medical professional for a correct diagnosis.