From the monthly archives:

February 2010

“Born to Run” on Jeopardy

by Christopher on February 11, 2010

Luckily, a stunned friend was quick enough to grab a photo when this clue flashed on the screen Wednesday night on “Jeopardy.” The contestant nailed it, too.

Menstrual-controlled running shoes, new from Asics.

by Christopher on February 11, 2010

No, seriously. I only wish I were kidding. Just when you thought the shamelessness of running-shoe scams had reached bottom, whaddaya know — they find new depths to the cesspool. Asics is kindly offering to sell you a $190 running shoe that will magically adjust its midsole to your menstrual cycle. Read on, and marvel at how the Asics flack gets this stuff out with a straight face.

If you weren't grouchy already, this'll do it.

Who needs speed?

by Christopher on February 7, 2010

In “Born to Run,” I explore the idea that the reason we gather by the tens of thousands to run 26.2 miles through city streets isn’t to survive the experience, but to share it…

Excerpted from “Born to Run”:

The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other, he understood, but to be with each other… That’s why the Tarahumara bet like crazy before a ball-race; it makes them equal partners in the effort, letting the runners know they’re all in it together. Likewise, the Hopis consider running a form of prayer; they offer every step as a sacrifice to a loved one, and in return ask the Great Spirit to match their strength with some of his own…Scott, whose sick mother never left his thoughts, was still a teenager when he absorbed this connection between compassion and competition.

And over on Runningquest, commentator “AQ” adds a startlingly sharp insight. Speed, he writes, is equal to knowledge. The more you know about training and technique, the faster you’ll run. Acquiring knowledge is a supremely important evolutionary trait, so we’re rewarded with feelings of elation and satisfaction. So that’s why we care whether we run a 3:40 marathon or a 3:39.59. That single second is a triumph of the mind, not just muscle. Fascinating. One thing that’s been so great about the booming interest in natural running is the way the conversation is casting light on so many other aspects of human performance.

From “AQ”:

The speed at which we run a race (any race—100 miles or 100 meters) measures our knowledge of running. I think that’s why most of us bother to race at all—to measure how much we’ve learned and improved since the last time. It certainly measures other things (your dedication to the sport, the amount of free time you’ve had in the preceding weeks to train, etc), but primarily it demonstrates how well you understand running (how to train, how to hydrate, how to approach the race itself, etc). As Roger said, there is nothing wrong with running a 5 hour marathon, just like there is nothing wrong with hitting 1 out of 10 free throws, as long as you are enjoying what you’re doing. However, running a marathon at that pace doesn’t indicate any deep understanding of the sport (with the obvious exceptions, such as if the runner was older). A runner who is at the very beginning stages of learning the sport might be someone you would want to swap thoughts with if you were both at that level, but taking lessons from him could lead to real problems. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
My second thought, and I realize that this is provocative before I even say it, is that I am not convinced that barefoot running is a means to an end. Particularly to the end of healthy running. Barefoot running is not a panacea–running barefoot exposes you to injury just like any physical activity does. Certainly the kinds of injuries you encounter might be different than those when wearing shoes, but as Dr. Victor points out, we just don’t have a large enough body of science to know whether it will decrease the rate of injury. The Sapporo Half Marathon study that he cited suggests to me that it is overstriding and inefficient form that causes problems rather than shoes or the way the foot lands—as runners get better at running, they tend to develop a more efficient (i.e. faster and less injury prone) form whether they are wearing shoes or not. I think what Paul called something like “heel roll in” is a very different thing from “heel strike”, and my guess is that these Sapporo study runners were doing something like roll in, although the study didn’t specifically make the distinction between the two.

I have recently been logging all of my miles barefoot and will continue to do so, but I do it simply because I enjoy it. In other words, it is an end in and of itself. In my mind, that is the only reason to do it. It doesn’t particularly make me a better runner (I certainly would never race barefoot), and I am very sure that I will get running injuries in the future regardless of how I run.

The Mafia Business Model

by Christopher on February 7, 2010

A few months ago, I wrote an article for Southwest Airlines in-flight magazine about the opportunity that natural running presented to running-shoe retailers. The only reason these stores exist is because the owners position themselves as experts. Now that it’s becoming clear that the torque and excess cushioning in modern running shoes are harmful, what are they supposed to do? As a few storeowners have shown, the most lucrative response to the surge in natural-running  is also the most ethical:

Own it.

Several stores, like Zombierunners in Palo Alto and Playmakers in Okemos, Michigan, were lightning fast to learn all they could about proper running form and pass that info along to their customers. Zombierunners had me in their store as soon as the book came out. They even followed up with a series of barefoot-running clinics with Barefoot Ted. Curt Munson, owner of one of the biggest and most-respected running stores in the country, also brought me in to speak and now runs a free “Good Form” running class in his shops on Wednesday nights. Curt is in a tough position; he’s got a full display of shoes on his walls and does product-testing for Runner’s World’s shoe reviews, yet for years, he’s been running in Chaco sandals and Vibram Fivefingers. I don’t think the dilemma caused Curt any trouble at all. As soon as he had information that might help his customers, he mastered it. When I went to speak at his store on a freezing Tuesday night in October, the place was packed. I’m convinced the turnout was because of Curt, not me; his customers know that when Curt is excited about something, it’s smart to pay attention. Maybe he’ll end up selling fewer pairs of Nike Air Whatevers, but as I saw firsthand, it’s sure not hurting foot traffic in his store. That’s because ultimately, niche retailers aren’t really selling products; they’re selling expertise. Show your customers you know more than they do, and they’ll keep coming through your door to buy something.

Now, contrast that approach to the Mafia-like business model that has dominated running-shoe sales for the past few decades: give me your money, or you’re gonna get hurt. Replace your shoes every 300 miles, or you’re going to get injured. Listen to those barefoot nuts, as the supposedly objective editor-in-chief of Runner’s World warns, and you’ll “get hurt very quickly and have to stop running for a very long time.” But as Runningquest points out, the CEO of Roadrunner Sports will likely look back on his own fearmongering sales pitch some day and cringe:

Selling shoes the old-fashioned way: fear

“But what about glass?”

by Christopher on February 6, 2010

Will the barefoot runner who has ever sliced his or her foot on a piece of glass please stand up? If you’re able, of course. Because I’d love to meet you, mysterious and mythical stranger that you are. Anyone who runs without shoes is constantly asked about All That Dangerous Glass Out There! Take this comment from Kevin Kirby, the angry podiatrist who pops up  whenever natural-style running is discussed.

KEVIN KIRBY I have no problem with people who occasionally run barefoot on a safe surface as a supplement to their normal training. But in today’s society, we don’t have a lot of grassy fields. We have a lot more asphalt, concrete, glass, and nails. So I worry that barefoot running is going to produce injuries, such as puncture wounds, infections, and even lacerations of vital structures at the bottom of the foot. I would hate to see someone who wouldn’t get injured in shoes go out barefoot running and get a serious injury.

But I’ve never heard from any barefoot runners, ever, who have cut themselves. One reason, of course, is that by keeping your stride short and feet under your hips, it’s easy to dodge around any debris in your path.

And there’s an even simpler explanation. All That Dangerous Glass Out There… ain’t out there. According to this nationwide study of America’s litter (caution, it’s a slow-loading PDF), our streets are pretty darn pristine, at least when it comes to sharp stuff. Overall, litter is down by 61% since 1969. Glass has decreased by a whopping 86.4 percent. In fact, glass makes up only 4.5% of all street litter.

So what is out there? Soft stuff, mostly. Cigarette butts (37.7%), paper (21.9%), plastic (19.3%), and my favorite category: “organic” (4.2%), which I’m guessing is survey-speak for dog dumpers. Which means that even if you wanted to cut your foot or step in Marley’s final steaming pile, you’d need a serious masochistic streak and the eyes of a hawk just to find something to do the job.

Round 2 with Runcolo…

by Christopher on February 5, 2010

Run Colorado, the remarkably energetic and inquisitive running blog, was one of the first media outlets to take a look at Born to Run and ask some smart questions. Now, Simon is back for more. He’s been picking up on some barefooting backlash and decided to separate the heat from the light.

Chia fever

by Christopher on February 2, 2010

the huffington post, oddly, today had one of the best discussion i’ve come across on chia, the teeny tarahumara wonder food.

Barefooting, Argentine Prison Style

by Christopher on February 2, 2010

“Since reading your book (of which I am a huge fan) I´ve done a fair amount of barefoot running. Currently I´m travelling around South America and have been keeping a blog about my travels and my running. This past weekend I had the pleasure of spending the night in an Argentine prison. Out of necessity the trip home from said prison was a barefoot run….”

This tale from “The Gobi Runner” is easily a contender for the best barefoot running story I’ve ever been told.