Smoothies On The Run

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(Skinny Pear and Ginger Smoothie – this recipe and more in post)

I love smoothies.

You know what else I love? Running.

A couple months ago, I torqued my knee while running. It wasn’t major, but as any runner knows an injured knee can be a huge set-back. You can’t rush the healing process, and you can’t push through the pain – you just have to wait.

In the meantime, I’ve been swimming, biking, and doing other low-impact activities. Now that my knee is recovered, though, I’m anxious to run again. And nothing gets me itching for the wind in my hair like a new pair of shoes!

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(Vibram KimodoSport LS)

These are Vibram’s FiveFinger shoes. They’ve become pretty popular, as a style statement just as much as a practicality.

My knees have been through a lot, and once you have knee problems they tend to persist, so keeping down the risk of hurting myself again is top priority.

While the shoes are recent, barefoot running is no new thing. Many studies have been done, and more extensive analysis is still being performed, to prove how much safer barefoot running is. To me, the evidence speaks for itself in aboriginal, tribal, and other such peoples – people who have never worn shoes, never slammed their heels into the ground with every step, and are clearly swifter runners than any regular athlete. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the stereotype of Kenyon natives winning foot races, but the reality extends far beyond that.

In his book ‘Born to Run’, Christopher McDougal documents the incredible lives and abilities of the Tarahumara Indians, who run literally hundreds upon hundreds of miles, without injury, and with nothing on their feet except thin, flat-soled sandals to protect from rocks and debris… if even that. They are swift, tireless, and above all enjoy every moment of what they’re doing. McDougal even likens them to children, running from one place to the next simply because it’s more fun to run. Isn’t that how it should be?

Alright, so let’s talk mechanics.

Most modern shoes and sneakers feature a well-padded sole, which is raised slightly at the heel. When running, the leg comes to a (mostly) full extension, and the heel contacts the ground first, toes pointed, then the foot rolls forward, pushing off with the toes. This heavy landing produces a sharp, single point of impact. The pressure radiates directly through the leg, to the knees and hips. It also pushes up and backwards, causing a loss of momentum.

If you’ve ever run in your bare feet, you know that landing heel-first is just asking for injury. You step lightly, landing on the balls of your feet, knees bent. This is called fore-foot running, and if you think about it is the way humans always ambulated before the invention of modern shoes. With this style of step, the impact is distributed throughout the foot, and your bent knee can then extend into the space between your heel and the ground, acting both as a shock absorber and a spring, pushing you forward and into your next step. This makes running significantly faster and more efficient, as well as gentler on the joints.

Transitioning between these two styles of running isn’t a quick change to make – while fore-foot running may be simple enough to get the hang of, it works completely different muscles in your toes, arches, and calves. It is very important to train slowly, starting with only a fraction of the distance one would normally run, until the muscles have strengthened.

There’s also the option of transition shoes – many brands offer very thin, or flat-soled, running shoes that can help make the transition from regular sneakers to barefoot running smooth and easy. While there are several good ones available, the Saucony Kinvara’s are what have caught my attention the most, as they seem very minimal. A pair of these will likely become my secondary runners.

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(The Brother’s brand new Kinvara 3’s – a lucky find pre their release)

Okay, now back to the shoes.

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The question on all your minds, I’m sure, is are they comfortable – and all I can say is… what shoes? The material is flexible, offering a wide range of motion, and the sole is thick enough to provide protection without getting in the way. I can feel the soft grass brushing along the bottoms of my feet as I walk, but stepping on twigs, pebbles, or other debris causes no problem at all. The toe thing feels a little odd at first, but now I can almost forget they’re on.

Before running in the shoes, Vibram suggests running a few yards in your bare feet. Feel how your foot lands, and use that as a model for running with the shoes on.

I spent a few days walking around the house before taking them for a spin. As I began to run, the difference I felt was tremendous. I took shorter, lighter steps, and my legs moved almost effortlessly. I  felt completely cushioned by my bent knees, and was propelled forward as though there were springs in the backs of my legs. I had initially worried that fore-foot running might strain the arches of my feet, but I quickly realized that was no concern – my feet felt as comfortable as ever.

The shoes are nearly weightless in comparison to regular running shoes, and my feet moved quickly and nimbly. My knees felt strong, pain-free, and I could even feel a difference in my hips, as they took virtually zero impact with each step. I also found it much easier to maintain good posture through my mid and upper spine, something I’ve struggled with in the past.

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While less exaggerated, this style of running reminded me of the form taken when sprinting, leaning forward over your toes and pushing off with the balls of your feet. I went an average of nearly 2 MPH faster than my usual without even trying, and had to force myself to slow down. It was like I couldn’t keep up with my own legs. Every stride felt fast and smooth, and if the muscles in my feet and legs were accustomed I’m sure I could’ve run on forever.

That said, my feet and legs are not at all accustomed. Muscles that are normally neglected or misused sprang into action, and after just a half mile my calves were getting tired. Even then, I had so much momentum it was a force of will to bring myself to a halt. This is how I remember feeling when I was a kid, running around the house at what I used to refer to as ‘super-Sonic speed!’ (not because I knew what super-sonic meant, but because I knew who Sonic the Hedgehog was).

Despite how much fun I was having, I was careful to take it easy. I called it a day, and put the shoes up to rest while I stretched and pampered my legs. A good thing, too, as the very next morning I could feel parts of my feet and calves aching that I never even knew were there!

One of my favorite ways to wind down after a run is with a big fresh smoothie.

That’s right, I’m bringing this post full-circle!

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Actually, smoothies are one of my favorite ways to begin any workout. Or start the day. Or finish a meal. They’re so customizable!

The natural sugars in fruit and antioxidant berries are perfect for getting your body moving, and in the mornings I’ll sometimes throw in a handful of rolled oats and some greens. Half an avocado and a handful of spinach can add a burst of nutrients, without altering the flavor much. Post-run, I like to throw in a scoop of protein powder to pump up the recovery value.

Of course, any flavor combination is possible… from the classic banana strawberry, to cherry pineapple, to berries and peanut butter.  It doesn’t get much easier than to throw a few handfuls of fresh fruit into the blender, add some milk, or yogurt, or substitute, and blend to perfection.

But… I don’t always have fresh fruit.

(I don’t always have fresh fruit, but when I do… I freeze it!)

That’s right. When I have a bunch of fruit, and it’s nice and ripe but I don’t think it will get eaten before it goes bad, I slice it up and freeze it. Then, when a smoothie calls, all I need do is open a bag, dump it into the blender, and I’m good to go.

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Simply wash, slice, core, peel, or otherwise prepare your fruit. If it’s prone to quick oxidation (like apple slices that turn brown very quickly) you can toss them in a small squeeze of lemon juice. If your fruit is a little on the sour side, toss with a bit of sugar.
Lay the prepared fruit in a single layer on a parchment-lined tray or baking sheet, and freeze until solid, or overnight. Remove the fruit from the tray, break up any clumps, and store in freezer bags until ready to use. You can store combinations of fruit together for ready-to-make smoothies, or bag them separately to create your own flavors as you like later on. I like to have extra bags of bananas, strawberries, and avocado, to sweeten or green any smoothie I’m making.
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I also freeze yogurt and coconut milk in ice-cube trays, so I always have some on hand. I add a few cubes to my smoothie, then all I need is a splash of water or juice to thin it down. You can customize this even further by freezing flavored yogurt, or making your own with a splash of vanilla, maple syrup, or other sweetener. Since those things are easily added later on, I usually keep mine plain when freezing.

I started my day with this Skinny Pear and Ginger Smoothie – made with these hilariously fat-bottomed pears.

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1 1/2 – 2 pears, 1 wedge of ginger, peeled (about the size of the tip of my pinky finger), handful of fresh spinach. Slice and core the pears, peel the ginger, and add everything to your blender or food processor – thin with water or fruit juice as needed. Optionally, add a drizzle of agave or other sweetener to taste.

Just a touch of heat from the ginger, and not too sweet. This really woke me up and got me ready to move!

After my run, I was feeling a bit tropical. And, since I didn’t have any on hand, I didn’t have to worry about what flavor would go well with protein powder.
I grabbed a bag of mango/coconut/kiwi, threw it in the blender, and with one sip I was transported to a beach, squishing sand between my toes. Okay, not really, but I certainly closed my eyes and imagined it!

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1 mango, 1 kiwi, 4-5 coconut milk ice-cubes (1/4-1/2 cup), water or juice as needed to thin to desired consistency.

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Tell me – what are your favorite smoothie flavors?

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Still hungry? Try these:

36 Responses to Smoothies On The Run

  1. Rachel W. April 24, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    I’ve been having the itch to start making smoothies lately. I absolutely love the little tips you shared about freezing the fruit and the coconut and yogurt! Do you have any suggestions for a good blender that chops up all of this real good?

    • Willow April 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

      There are a lot of good high-powered blenders out there. I have a very old (very sturdy) L’Equip RPM blender – but am also a big fan of Vita-Mix, and have heard good things about the brand ‘Ninja’.

      (According to Consumer Reports, the top three models are currently the Vita-Mix 5200, the Ninja QB1004, and the L’Equip 228 – of the three, the Ninja is the cheapest).

      These will pulverize and smooth out nearly anything in a matter of seconds, but are all fairly pricy and aren’t really necessary for making these smoothies. Any blender that’s strong enough to chop ice-cubes will be able to handle this. :)

  2. Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes April 24, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    Love all this info on running and the shoes – thanks for sharing your experience.

    …if only I was organized as you – smoothie baggies, frozen fruit, coconut and yogurt cubes- can you come over and organize my freezer please :)

    I love Vegan Milk Shakes does that count? JK, no really I love Vegan Milk Shakes but also love my green juice with Asian Pear, Kale, Broccoli, Kiwi, blueberries & apple – so good!

    • Willow April 24, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

      Haha – I only appear organized. My freezer is such a mess. :P

      Yum! That pear, kale, broccoli, kiwi, blueberry, apple combo sounds incredible!

  3. Peaches & Cream April 24, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    Just got back from a run and these smoothies look killer-lol. How organized are you?! I am super jealous! I think this is a great idea-thanks for sharing. I will surely be doing this in the future!

    • Willow April 24, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

      Heheh – thanks! I’d say I’m more frugal than organized. ;)

  4. Jen @ Juanita's Cocina April 24, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

    Those pears are SO juicy lookin’…in many different ways!!! LOL! I want fat-bottomed pears. Just so I can say I have them!

    I used to be a runner, before I hurt my back. Now, my back can’t take the pounding. So, I eat instead. Heh.

    • Willow April 24, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

      Heheh – that’s kind of why I bought them. I knew I wanted fruit, but these just called to me. :P

      That really sucks, I’m sorry to hear you can’t run anymore!

  5. Choc Chip Uru April 24, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

    Both your smoothie concoctions have my mouth watering :D
    They look fabulous!
    I am actually a peach and mango smoothie fanatic – served with strawberries? Unbeatable :D

    Choc Chip Uru

    • Willow April 24, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

      Mmm, peaches are one of my favorites as well! I love adding vanilla and yogurt, and making a ‘peaches and cream’ smoothie. Mango and strawberries would be a welcome addition! :)

  6. Oishii Treats April 24, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

    I love smoothies, I find it so much easier to sneak in spinach when I add it to fruit smoothies. My fav is banana, mango and strawberry with spinach yum! I love the idea of freezing coconut milk and using it later, going to do that tonight :) plus your tropical smoothie looks delicious.

    • Willow April 24, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

      Mmm, banana/mango/strawberry with spinach – wonderful combo!

  7. Elly McCausland April 24, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    I love how your smoothie and the pear have the EXACT same colouring. I too am a total smoothie fiend, but had never thought of chopping up fruit that’s going off and freezing it. I freeze berries and whole peeled bananas, but your idea is great! There’s so much satisfaction to be had from chucking it all in a blender and pressing ‘go’…

    • Willow April 24, 2012 at 11:44 pm #

      Thanks! I love having frozen banana and berries on hand, too – great for whirring up into banana ‘ice cream’. :D

  8. pilgrimageofhealth April 25, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    I freeze fruit and spinach myself for smoothies all the time, but never coconut milk. GENIUS!!!!

    • Willow April 26, 2012 at 1:57 am #

      Heheh – glad I could offer some inspiration!

    • patricia April 26, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

      I agree, Coconut milk is an excellent idea. Used to use all the time for Thai dishes, never considered for smoothies. I’m gonna use it now, though!

    • Willow April 26, 2012 at 7:52 pm #


  9. Beth @ Good to be the Cook April 25, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    Just started on my smoothie kick this season… have yet to try the coconut milk ice cubes, but I will now! … check it out if you can! I love your combos!

  10. Ashlae April 26, 2012 at 1:00 am #

    What a delicious smoothie! But I have to admit.. the Vibrams really caught my eyes. I’ve been running in them for over a year and cannot believe how they’ve transformed my body. I’ve eaten the same, lifted the same.. but my body has turned into a powerhouse. Not to mention, I used to run a 5k in a little over 21 minutes. After a year in my vibrams? 19 MINUTES! I’m absolutely in love with these shoes and the new body they’ve allowed me to create. Not to mention, I no longer have knee pain or shin splints. Happy training in your VFFs, and here’s to a speedy recovery :)

    • Willow April 26, 2012 at 1:59 am #

      Wow, that’s a pretty incredible story! My calves were very, very sore after my first run in them, so I’m imagining the training process will be fairly slow-going. That’s wonderful to hear that they’ve made such a difference for you, though – I look forward to being able to run in them regularly! :D

  11. Veganosaurus April 26, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    Such cool shoes! I love walking barefoot (that’s what I do at home anyways) and your shoes look like just the thing I’d enjoy for outside.

    I love your idea of freezing the fruits in groups for instant smoothies. And those coconut milk ice cubes… *slurp*

    • Willow April 26, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

      Indeed! I didn’t talk about it much, but these shoes are perfect for walking around, hiking, even swimming. They’re very wearable, and incredibly easy to wash and care for. :)

  12. Kiri W. April 26, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    Those shoes look so crazy – I really want to try a pair! :) And the smoothie sounds awesome, I love the combination of ginger and pear.

    • Willow April 26, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

      You should! Most places will fit you and let you try them on (since it’s a tough thing to buy otherwise). Definitely, see how they feel! :)

  13. Kat April 26, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

    Sorry so late catching up. I love running too. I have heard about fore-foot running and how it’s better for the body. I’ve tried fore-foot running in regular shoes, but it takes quite a bit of concentration. I imagine in shoes like that it’s less of a conscious effort since you’re trying to lessen the impact. I do want to try it. Do you only run on unpaved roads in these?

    • Willow April 26, 2012 at 11:03 pm #

      It is much easier to do fore-foot running in these. The raised heel of most running shoes makes it very difficult indeed.

      And no, you can run on pretty much all terrain in them! In fact, I mostly run on pavement. Dirt roads and gravel might bother me after awhile, but probably not much… I’ve hardly notice stepping on the occasional pebble/crack/twig/etc. so far.
      I can definitely feel what surface I’m on, but they really do protect against debris and what-not. And the bottoms seem quite sturdy, plenty enough to hold up to rough asphalt and concrete. :)

  14. RavieNomNoms April 27, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    I am just now getting back into running and I am loooving it! Like loving it! I am scared of those shoes though because I am a semi-flat foot so I need good arch support in my shoes…they look so cool though.

    I like smoothies too! They are awesome…thanks for sharing this!

    • Willow April 27, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

      That’s great that you’re running again!

      I have quite flat feet (wide, too) and was concerned about my arches with these shoes, but I had no problem at all. I highly recommend trying a pair. :)

  15. Richa April 29, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    love that kiwis in the glass shot! and this smoothie. i always think i should freeze the fruit and end up forgetting to do so till it is too late:) freezing the coconut into cubes is genius!
    hubbs just got his vibrams and is loving them.. he has one reparred acl knee which isnt right yet but the shoes are helping him develop the muscles around the knee and his running is getting better! I am waiting for another month or so for a more through review from him before picking up one for me:)

    • Willow April 30, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

      That’s great that they’re helping him! I’ve only had them for a couple weeks now, but I am really impressed by the difference they’ve made. Muscles in both my lower and upper legs are sore after the slightest amount of running in them… in a good way. Before I would run mile after mile, and at the end my feet would hurt, my knees ached, my hips, my back – perhaps my muscles were a little tense afterward, but for the most part they weren’t doing any work. Now, instead of flinging my legs forward and relying on my joints, I’m using all of these muscles that I never used before. I feel stronger already. :)

  16. Beth Michelle May 2, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    I love love love smoothies. This look so delicious!! The color is just so pretty. I love apple, pomegranate and passion fruit smoothies!!

    • Willow May 2, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

      Mmm, that sounds like such a great combo! Haven’t had passion fruit in awhile. :)

  17. Vicky May 11, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    Mango kiwi and coconut milk sound like an awesome combination for a smoothie! Great idea to freeze the coconut milk in ice cube trays – I’m going to have to start doing that!

    • Willow May 11, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

      I liked it! The Boyfriend recently threw together a mango-banana-strawberry smoothie that I thought was quite delicious, also. :)

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