21 Miles I Once Called Impossible—It’s Gotta Be the Socks!

There’s a trail in my town that I love.  It’s called the Ma and Pa trail, short for Maryland and Pennsylvania, I think.  It’s partially paved, partially gravel, and it goes through the woods with some winding bridges.

And it’s really hilly.

This is great, except there’s one problem.  It’s so hilly that I’ve never been able to do long runs on it.  I attempted a 16- and 18-miler on it a few years ago, and since then I’ve told a lot of people that my body just can’t handle that distance on this trail.

Yesterday, though, I broke through that barrier.  In my first “official”  training run for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler in eight weeks, I ran 21 miles on the Ma and Pa.

What made the difference?

Mostly, the fact that I’m in the best shape of my life.  I’ve run two ultras this year, haven’t been injured in over a year, and my diet is cleaner than it has ever been.

But partially, I think it was the socks.

CEP Compression Socks

Compression socks (for use while running, not just after) first appeared on my radar when I saw Blaine Moore of Run to Win wearing them in a race.  And then I started seeing them at lots of races.

They look kind of ridiculous, so I doubt people are wearing them as a fashion statement.  Could they really make that big a difference to your running?

CEP Compression Sock

I was so excited when CEP Sportswear offered to send me a pair of their compression socks and compression sleeves to review.  (The sleeves are for your legs, not your arms as I first thought.)  CEP’s socks offer graduated compression, and they’re sized based on shoe size and calf size.  And get this: According to CEP, there’s a published medical study showing that runners in CEP compression socks experienced 5% better performance, which equates to 10-12 minutes in a marathon!

Let me tell you, I am really impressed at how well these work.  Even as I’ve become a stronger runner, runs of 18 miles or more always end with my feet and legs hurting and feeling really heavy.  Running in compression socks, I don’t get any of that!

Sure, I still get tired by the end.  But there’s not that discomfort, and I think that’s so important.  Even if you can run through the pain, I really believe that so much of running long is about eliminating stressors to your mind and body.  And pain is a major one.

CEP Compression Sleeve

Of the socks and sleeves, I prefer the sleeves.  They don’t have a “foot” to them, so you can wear whatever sock you want.  And if you need to change shoes and socks, like I’m sure I will after I run through a few streams during my 50-miler, you can do so without taking the sleeve off.  (If the foot part of the sock provides any additional benefit, I didn’t notice it.)

Can they really make you run faster?

Without a lot of testing on my own, that’s hard to say.  But based on how I feel running in them, it would be strange to think that wouldn’t translate into better performance on race day.

I’m almost certain that I’ll wear these during part or all of my 50-miler.  Whether they make me run faster or not, they’ll make me more comfortable.  And if I’m going to spend a Sunday running that freaking far, then I’ll take whatever comfort I can get.  And I’d highly recommend them to anyone else who experiences foot or leg discomfort as the miles add up.

CEP offers compression wear for all different sports, not just running.  Check out their products page to learn more.  Thanks, CEP!

And while we’re talking about socks…

I figured I’d also mention another pair of socks I just got: Injinji toe socks!  I paid my own hard-earned money for these, mainly so that I could wear them with my Vibram FiveFingers, to avoid the nasty blisters on my instep that the VFF’s give me.  But I’ve also heard that they’re great for avoiding blisters in regular shoes, since by separating your toes from one another, they prevent the skin from rubbing.

Anyway, I’ve worn them twice.  They worked out great on the track in the VFF’s, and on the trail in my trail shoes.  Maybe one day I’ll pair them with the CEP sleeves for the dream combo.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.  Get out there for one more run before it’s over!

P.S. No baby yet.  Any day now…



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  1. Great review. I would love to give these a go. I’ve seen a few people wearing the FiveFinger shoes around town lately!!
    .-= Erica´s last blog ..Easy Pasta Salad, BAoK, Charleston Meet up =-.

  2. Great review, I’ll have to give CEP a try at some point. I’ve mostly used Zensah for running (although I’ve got a pair of recovery socks now for afterwards based on your recommendation…wearing them right now in fact.)

    A buddy of mine suggested I get some of the zensah leg sleeves for my 50 miler back in January of ’09. My wife got them for me for Christmas, but since I’d never used them before I didn’t wear them during the race.

    After the race, I got back to the hotel, took a shower, and put the leg sleeves on before taking a 2 hour nap. When I woke up, no calf pain or aches whatsoever, it was awesome! I wore them on the flight back to Maine from Vegas and never had sore calves once I’d woke up from the nap.

    These days I wear them on any of my long runs or races. They may not help performance, like you said, but you sure do feel better for having worn them, especially afterwards. I don’t mind looking silly if it means that I’m that much less likely to get hurt.
    .-= Blaine Moore´s last blog ..Catherine Ndereba and Robert Cheruiyot Will Not Be Running Boston =-.

  3. Awesome review! They look totally dorky but hey, if you had told me two years ago that I’d be wearing a hip pack, an orange reflective jacket and a miner’s headlamp on a regular basis I’d have laughed at you. 🙂 We do these things to do them better and longer, so if you can stave off an injury more power to you!
    PS My son and my daughter both showed up a tiny bit late, enjoy the calm before the storm!
    .-= Jose´s last blog ..The Sacramento Shamrock’n =-.

  4. Chris H. says:

    Overall, I think the sleeves are better than the socks for running but the socks trump in casual and work attire. Great review; I may just have to get a pair. No free giveaway though? :O[

  5. Chris H. says:

    Where is this trail exactly? I live in MD and would love to try it out.

    • Chris, it’s in Bel Air, on Williams Street. I wouldn’t say it’s worth a long drive; it’s a nice trail but there are all kinds of real trails in the woods that I’d pick first! And it’s only 3.5 miles one way, so 7 out and back. It’s a nice trail to have nearby though.

      By the way, your comment might have been responsible for making the giveaway happen! So thanks.

      • Chris H. says:

        Thanks for the info. I am always looking for new, scenic “trails” in driving range of DC so I may have to try this one out this summer when I will have more time. Maybe I will see a “no meat athlete” shirt when I go or a few new compression socks/sleeves.

  6. I love the Injinji toe socks – I’ve been wearing them for almost a year now and have not had a blister on my toe since.

    Great job on conquering that run!

  7. I’m going to try and buy some of those!
    .-= AndrewENZ´s last blog ..A goodly run and a ramble =-.

  8. Great review! You know baby is waiting for next Monday to come.
    .-= Nicki´s last blog ..Saturday Night =-.

  9. I’ve toyed with getting compression socks. I’ve heard about better recovery with them. Thanks for the review.
    .-= Stacey´s last blog ..Garmin Report & Health Fair =-.

  10. Maybe this is a silly question, but would similarly-constructed but cheaper socks – like, say, soccer socks – do the same thing? I’ve never tried compression socks, but I wore a pair of soccer socks for a retro-themed race, and was surprised with how good my legs felt. But I’m assuming there must be a benefit to wearing the compression ones.
    .-= sarah´s last blog ..Happy St. Patrick’s Day! =-.

    • I think that the benefits would be limited compared to actual compression socks or leg sleeves because they won’t be designed for the same purpose. Holding a shin guard in place and manipulating your calf aren’t quite the same thing.

      That said, you could probably get the same benefits at least from a recovery standpoint by purchasing diabetic compression socks from your local drug store. I don’t know that I’d want to run in them but they’d probably work fine for after the run.
      .-= Blaine Moore´s last blog ..Catherine Ndereba and Robert Cheruiyot Will Not Be Running Boston =-.

    • Sarah, in addition to what Blaine said, I think the fact that manufacturers make a big deal about proper sizing and true “graduated” compression is a sign that there’s a lot more to is than just wearing tight socks. One more thing is that usually these are made with silver ions or other antimicrobial material so that they last long, and they’re often breathable or wicking.

      I have no doubt that the compression of your soccer socks did help some, though.

  11. Great post! I have compression tights that I wear for recovery, but I haven’t ventured to the compression sleeves/socks yet. I may try them when I start my marathon training, but for shorter races, I just can’t justify the cost. Maybe I’ll ask for a pair for my birthday! 🙂
    .-= Aimee (I Tri To Be Me)´s last blog ..Platte River 1/2 Marathon Race Report =-.

  12. Those sleeves look kind of interesting – do they slide down at all? Do you mind my asking what the benefits of wearing sleeves are? I’m just not familiar with them at all, or what their function would be other than keeping your legs warm. Thanks!
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Sushi time! =-.

    • Catherine, in theory they help with circulation. I believe there’s lots of data to back it up. The result, which is very noticeable, is much less discomfort during and after running. You can wear them while running or only afterward.

      • Thanks for responding! I’ve been checking out the site and only wish I heard about them sooner… I probably can’t get them sent over in time for the Boston Marathon since I’m heading up there a few days early – oh well!
        .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Sushi time! =-.

  13. Congrats! That’s awesome, even if it did take a little help. Glad you found something that works so well!

    As a pregnant woman running I could definitely see the benefit of having some of those!

  14. Wait, don’t tell me you did the hill leading up to Annie’s playground 3 times?!! I was on the trail too over the weekend, though I’ve only built up to 1 decent out and back there. The rolling incline all the way back up to Williams St. usually convinces me to jump in my car while I have the chance. 😉

  15. I would love to try the CEP Running O2 Compression Socks in white! I am training for my first marathon and I bet they would help me a lot with the post-run recovery 🙂

  16. Hey Matt, I was there on Sunday late morning, and for someone who usually runs early AM, boy was it hot!!! No I don’t think we’ve ever met, though if I see a NMA shirt running around, I’ll definitely give a shout. I go to some of the RASAC races, but haven’t built up the mileage to do anything beyond a half distance, so I most definitely was not at the last HAT run. 😉 Hope to get there someday — sounds like fun!

  17. Great review, but I would ignore the 5% better performance claim. According to their site, this was “clinically proven”, which means nothing because you’re not going to run under the same tested environments.

    Aside from that, from my personal experience, they don’t make you “run faster”. They may actually help you run longer at your threshold, stemming off fatigue/cramps, so your overall time may improve, because your average pace is better. Core speed is still a skill that has to be developed. If you weren’t fast before, you’re not going to be faster with compression socks but you may last longer.

    I don’t use these for long races (marathons) but I use them in triathlons mainly for the recovery benefits. They do help when getting off the bike and going on your run. It’s sometimes hard to evaluate gear though. Good luck in your endurance race!

    • Thanks Joe. I am a bit skeptical of claims like that too. In general, they don’t mean very much to me unless I know the details of the experiment, including who sponsored it and who conducted it. I should mention that they did offer to send me the paper, though.

      Regardless, the socks are great for preventing pain. And like you say, that can help your overall time.

  18. CEP Compression Socks really do help. I was amazed after I wore them, I just didnt have the same fatigue afterwards. Even during the run, they felt good. I wear them on every run now, even if its just gonna be a couple miles.

  19. I have chronic calf strains which has been limiting my running over the past few years. I stumbled across the Zensah compression calf sleeves, and while also using KT Tape on my calves, am able to run pain free. I don’t know the science behind it but this stuff really has been working for me.

  20. Those sleeves are on backwards in that picture.

  21. Indeed compression socks can really help especially when it comes to being comfortable. Good thing you find them helpful. As for me, I regularly use compression socks when I run as well as when I travel. They are great, so I often buy online at Legs Therapy (http://www.legstherapy.com/). 🙂

  22. Hey Matt,

    I realize this is a really old post but just wanted an update on compression socks/sleeves. Are you still using CEP? Did you wear them during your 100 miler? I just bought a pair and have used them for recovery after my last few runs and like them. I’m thinking about wearing them for my 14 miler this weekend to see if it helps my calf tightness and achilles weakness.


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