*Note, if you’re pressed for time/have ADD, read the first few paragraphs and then go to my conclusion at the bottom.
I was reading Men’s Health and came across the following article on barefoot running. I won’t rehash the article, but based on the study it cites, is proposes that that barefoot running is no more efficient (meaning the amount of energy you’re expending) than running in shoes and in fact, it might increase your energy consumption. Based on what I read about the study, I was a little skeptical, so I pulled up this article, which goes into more detail. Now, if you read that article, what it really comes down to is the following conclusion:
Running in lightweight shoes requires 3-4 percent less energy than running barefoot.
So we’re going to do a thought experiment, go through the study and see how they got to this conclusion and if it’s really anything you should be paying attention to (i.e. be featured in Men’s Health).
First, we’ll start with the research question. Is barefoot running more efficient? Well, more efficient than what? The study envisions the efficiency argument as “how much oxygen people consume (and how much carbon dioxide they produce)” while they run. That’s a fine measure for me. However, let’s be clear about what we’re testing. Barefoot vs. lightweight shoes, barefoot vs. regular shoes? The point of barefoot/minimalist running is that it’s supposed to increase efficiency by encouraging midfoot strikes and good running form. Advocates argue that having less support allows your foot to land less on the heel (which acts as a brake and decreases efficiency, and was advocated by Nike and other inventors of the popular running shoes with tons of cushioning) and more on the midfoot, which increases your stride and allows you to run more efficiently. Basically, land on your midfoot=get that 180 stride goal. So really, what I think the researchers first missed is that point of running barefoot/minimalist. It’s easier to get to the 180 stride goal, thus is more efficient.
What I think they should have done rather was track the amount of energy spent maintaining the 180 stride goal in shoes as opposed to running barefoot or in minimalist shoes. But they did not, so we’ll move on.
So they get a bunch of males who are experienced barefoot runners and have them run on a treadmill. There’s the first problem. The running mechanics for running on a treadmill versus running outside are totally different. A treadmill forces you to keep up with the speed of the machine while running outside forces you to propel yourself forward while the ground stays in one place. But we’ll move on.
They had the runners run in yoga socks on the treadmill, and counted that as “barefoot” running. Then, they had them use shoes. The shoes they wore were Nike minimalist shoes that clocked in at 150 grams. STOP. The shoes they are using as the “shoe” control are in fact, designed to encourage a midfoot strike and 180 strides, JUST LIKE RUNNING BAREFOOT. This part of the study is poorly designed because the appeal of barefoot running and the barefoot running movement isn’t founded on being an alternative to MINIMALIST SHOES that weigh 5oz per shoe, but rather, an alternative to standard running shoes that weigh around 14oz per shoe.
But, moving on. The runners run in barefoot and with the Mayfly shoe. Then the researchers start to add weights to their feet, I assume in order to simulate the weight of wearing a shoe. So what happens is, they have people running in socks, they attach weights to the socks equal to that of the Mayfly shoe, and they compare THAT to running IN THE SHOE! It’s a ridiculous comparison. Running with weights attached to your foot in equal amount to a shoe, does not equal the same mechanic/situation as running with the shoe. From the article:
When subjects ran barefoot with an additional 150 grams of weight added to their feet, about the same amount of weight as a Mayfly running shoe, they were 3 to 4 percent less efficient than when they wore the Mayfly, according to the study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. The reason why is the subjects of another study at the Locomotion Lab. The research has yet to be completed, but Franz said that he thinks the drop in efficiency may have to do with the need for barefoot runners to compensate when the cushioning of the shoe is removed.
NO. The reason why is probably because attaching weights to a foot is not the same as having it run in a shoe. This study really does nothing to solve the debate on whether running barefoot is *better* than running in regular running shoes and even if its methods were better, its findings are really insignificant to the average person who is thinking about switching from 14oz to 5oz shoes.
Really, the problem is that they are simply misunderstanding the barefoot claim. The barefoot claim is really more of a midfoot/stride/form claim. It says that in order to hit the optimal stride, you should run in a light shoe that encourages a midfoot vs. heel strike and 180 strikes per minute. These researchers are trying to pull apart the mass vs. shoe impact, which is stupid because the barefoot purpose is not to make you more efficient than running with weights LITERALLY attached to your socks (like they did in the study).
Pulling apart (studying) the weight vs. shoe mass effects is STUPID because the separation of the two NEVER occurs in real life. Runners add shoes, then they add weight. No one considering switching to barefoot running is going to add WEIGHT WITHOUT SHOES. This study is dumb.
These things are related, I swear.
I hit a little running snag when I got sick and then went on vacation. Since I’ve got the Pittsburgh half marathon coming up in a little over a month, I need to get back into running shape. My goal is to finish this half in under 2 hours, which is about a 9:05 pace. So my runs lately have been at a pace even quicker than that, which may not be smart, but ever since I’ve tried to work on my running form in my minimalist running shoes, I find myself running pretty well at around 8:45 for short runs. But of course 3 miles is a long way from 13, so I need to get in some longer runs. Today, I hit the park after work (keep in mind, on my grad student schedule, “after work” means like 4pm) with the goal of running at least 3 miles and then just going until it didn’t seem fun anymore.
So quick note on that last sentence. After reading “Born to Run” I’ve been trying to have a new outlook on running. Yes, I’m aiming for a pace goal for Pittsburgh, but I want to have fun running. I want to lace up my shoes, hit the ground, and enjoy the feeling of running. I’m mostly a guy who gravitates towards team sports like soccer and hockey, so individual trials are more difficult for me to get into. But I think that if I can run fast and smooth, then I will get more enjoyment out of running, because I like to do things at a pretty good clip. So today I knocked out 6 miles at a 8:24 pace. If I can sustain that for 13 miles, I’m well under 2 hours. We’ll see. But this run felt really good. My feet didn’t hurt, my legs didn’t hurt, I was breathing hard but I liked that. The reason I stopped at six was well, I had no more energy because I had a salad for lunch.
Not that this salad was just leaves. It was dark green leaves, topped with yellow pepper, chick peas, carrots, tuna, olive oil and vinegar. It was solid. But why salads? Well, in “Born to Run” the author floats the idea of eating salads for breakfast because you can pack a lot of nutritional punch into one and not feel like you’ve eaten something too heavy. Now, I’m not going to eat a salad before running in the morning and it’s definitely not my recovery meal of choice, so I was thinking about how to fit them in. Since I play soccer in the evenings a lot, I don’t want to eat one for dinner, nor do I want to eat one at 10pm after a game. So, lunch it is. I’m hoping that by doing this, I can cram a lot of nutrients into a lunch that will also give me energy throughout the day. It’s going pretty well so far. They involve a little prep work of chopping and such, but that’s no big deal and I sort of like that I’m controlling everything that goes in it.
So, post run, I was thinking about what to eat. The experts say that a 4:1 carb/protein ratio within 30 minutes of a workout helps your muscles recover and rebuild. Chocolate milk is touted as a great recovery drink, but I’m not too much of a milk guy and sometimes, I just really want to eat something. Enter, hummus. Check out the back of my tub and I’m in luck. 4 grams of carbs, 1 gram of protein. Perfect. Eat a few spoonfuls or spread some on toast, perfect light recovery meal.
*so you’re probably wondering what the hell the title of this post means. You’re gonna have to read on to find out. At least it got your attention
I came across the following article on The Atlantic‘s website about eating animals and wanted to share some of my ideas on the meat industry and the “ethics” of food. To quickly rehash the argument put forth by James McWilliams, he argues that the factory farm industry is actually gaining an endorsement from the “humane” and “sustainable” meat movement because inherent in the movement is the fact that people want to eat meat and the factory farm industry will always be able to provide it more efficiently and for a lower price. To quote him, he says:
So long as consumers continue to eat meat, eggs, and dairy — even if they are sourced from small farms practicing the highest welfare and safety standards — they’re providing, however implicitly, an endorsement of the products that big agriculture will always be able to produce more efficiently and cheaply.
As someone who recently bought chicken breast from the Honest Weight Co-op for $10 a pound, who knows that I can buy chicken at Price Chopper for about $3 -$5 a pound (according to this week’s ad) I agree with this last statement. My purchase of meat acknowledges that.
Mr. McWilliams says as much in his article, so I guess we agree on this. However, he finishes by saying:
We’ll never beat Big Ag at its own game. Those of us concerned with the myriad problems of industrial agriculture will make genuine progress toward creating agricultural systems that are ethical, ecologically sound, and supportive of human health only when we pursue alternatives that are truly alternative. The most immediate and direct way to take a step in this direction is to stop eating animals.
So according to McWilliams, the “alternative” to Big Ag, is NOT eating humane meat. But does he explicitly say what the “truly alternative” alternative is (WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN?) or describe it in any way that makes sense? No. And I am so frustrated because I am truly at a loss to envision this “truly alternative” alternative. Why? Because here’s what it CAN’T be:
*a world in which no one eats meat, because that’s just fucking absurd, there are over 300,000,000 people in this country and there is a better chance of me growing to 7 feet tall before I die than this EVER happening
*a world in which there is NO factory farming and all local farms. Because even places like the coop admit that they can’t stock only local meat because there simply would not be enough to meet demand (see, people WANT/LIKE to eat dead animals, plus, we all can’t afford $10 a lb chicken (let me state for the record that the chicken I am talking about was bought by my gf using a gift card, so it’s not like we really even paid for it)
*a world in which we all eat processed tofu that is engineered to taste like dead animals. Because that really wouldn’t be ecologically sound or that supportive of human health considering what is added to tofu to make it taste/resemble real animal protein, plus these products are incredibly expensive
My point? There is no other alternative. This is the world we live in. A world in which A LOT of people eat meat because there are so damn many of us and animal protein is a filling, healthy (let’s just agree that eating a piece of chicken won’t kill you and that eating a leaf of spinach won’t make you live forever), and CHEAP source of food. It’s a world that has a mixture of factory and local farms because there are people who want cheap meat and there are people who can afford $10 a lb chicken. A world in which people choose not to eat meat but then choose to eat products that TASTE like meat.
*speaking of meat, here is a great link where an editor from Serious Eats comments on the ease of meat, thus making my point that for most Americans who don’t have time or money, but have kids to feed, meat is the obvious choice. The solution then is not less meat, but a change in social circumstance
So where does that leave the food movement? Where does that leave Michael Pollan (a man who admits that when he gives talks on eating healthy he talks almost exclusively to people who don’t really need his advice) and Barbara Kingsolver (an author who had the luxury of raising her own food for a year and got a book deal out of it)? A giant, rich, skinny, white person circle jerk. That’s where. It’s a world in which liberal haves (who are just as annoying as conservative haves) sit around and bond over causes that they have in common that they are fortunate enough to support. It’s easy to pat yourself on the back because you shop at the co-op and it’s easy to write about your “perfect” agricultural world when your lifestyle allows you to essentially create a food bubble to surround yourself in. But it’s all just masturbation. These choices aren’t changing the social forces that created the “Big Ag” that you so despise and if McWilliams is right, then it’s only making “Big Ag” bigger.
Now, I’m not saying that if you don’t eat meat you should suddenly start. I’m not saying that as a personal choice, the choice to not eat meat or eat “humane” meat is wrong. Do what you wish, more power to you. But PLEASE, PLEASE, can we stop pretending like this “food” movement is some sort of revolution that will change our society? Stop with the books on how to eat in ways that will REALLY change the world. Eat what you ant, but get rid of your bombastic dreams and rhetoric about its consequences. Gay marriage didn’t kill the dinosaurs and the choices we make about what we eat won’t bring them back.
A few months ago, I noticed a rash of Facebook postings about the Environmental Working Group‘s Skin Deep Comestic rating website. The people posting (mostly female, and and mostly mothers, expecting mothers or hoping to someday be mothers) were FREAKING out over the information on this website and the threat that all these common products posed to their kids. Now, let me first say that I completely understand a maternal/paternal instinct to protect your children from harm. I get that. Hell, I want to protect your children from harm and I don’t even know them. BUT, after looking over this website, I’m convinced that it’s a load of crap and if you want to protect your kids from harm, your efforts are better spent elsewhere.
The EWG database has its own Facebook page, with 21,429 likes as I write this. They are constantly posting updates with stories on which product now has carcinogens in it and what is dangerous. Let me say that I have no doubt that there are products out there that contain ingredients that are REALLY bad for you. Cigarettes come to mind because well, there is a lot of GREAT data out there on why they will kill you. However, my beef with the EWG website is that it has a LOT of SHITTY data that basically tells you nothing at all. Let’s explore with a little trip down logic lane.
Say I log into Facebook, everyone is FREAKING OUT over this site and all the crap in their products that is going to give everyone cancer and die. Even people who are already dead. This stuff will kill you, bring you back to life and then kill you again. So I go to the website and since I’m concerned, I start to check out some of the products I use. We’ll start with my cleanser, LAB Series for Men Multi Action Facewash. I’d recommend right-clicking on that link so you can follow along.
According to EWG, this product has a score of “3” and its health concern is “moderate.” Okay…the site has a scale and it goes like this. 0-2 is low hazard (like splashing water on your face. 3-6 is moderate hazard (using my cleanser). 7-10 is high hazard (like using bleach on your face). However, I’m making these comparisons up because EWG doesn’t really indicate what these scores mean. 0-10 is completely arbitrary and in terms of scales, I don’t even think that they put much though into it, as in, I don’t trust that a 6 score, is twice as hazardous as a 3 score. It tells me NOTHING.
Oh, but maybe the “Health Concern” score will tell me something. Apparently, the “Health Concern” for this product is also moderate. What the hell does that mean? Well, if you hold your cursor over the score, this gem of text comes up:
reflects combined hazards of all product ingredients. actual health risks from product use, if any, will depend on the amounts of the ingredients absorbed into the body and individual vulnerability to health problems
So…again. I’ve learned nothing from this site. On a scale of 1-10, my product’s health risks (IF ANY) are equal to a 3, which is moderate. Well, at least it’s not hazardous. However, my biggest beef with this site is another scale called the “Data Score Key.”
As it’s name suggests, this indicates the amount of data that EWG uses to create their scores. They word it as:
When I was a senior in college, I was looking for an easy class to take that would also be fun. So, I signed up for “Sports Psychology” because hell, I loved sports, was a psych minor, and it seemed like a really interesting pairing. And it was really easy. But I did come away with a lot of cool information and even got to sit next to D.C. United‘s Ben Olsen (he missed a few classes when he was off winning the MLS Cup that year). A few things that I took away were the power of pre-game and pre-sport rituals.
One of the most important things you can do is visualize. It prepares your mind and body for the upcoming activity. The more vivid and realistic the imagery, the better it will help you prepare. For example, before a soccer game I’ll visualize scoring goals, making good passes, and making solid defensive tackles. I’ll also remember moments from past games as vividly as possible. If I’m going running, I’ll visualize myself charging up hills or getting into a really good stride. Again, I’ll look back on moments from the past to serve as the visual cues. These really help get me motivated and get into the mindset of having a good performance.
Another thing that comes up a lot is the idea of listening to motivating music. Obviously, you can’t do this while playing soccer, but I listen to a lot of music before games and it really helps get me excited and it tells my mind/body that I’m about to do something intense that I need to get my adrenaline pumping for. Running, is a different story. When I run indoors on the treadmill, I need music. I listen to a lot of loud rock, with fast time signatures, that seem to be in cadence with my running stride. But when I run outside, and when I run races, I have no music at all. Part of it is that I don’t use an Ipod shuffle, so I’m sort of uncomfortable with the large/bulky armbands that can hold your regular Ipod. Another reason is that I like the sensory stimulation of running outside, and I find that when I’m racing, the adrenaline of the race, the sights and sounds around me, and my internal goals of catching up to and passing people are enough to make me run well I’m not advocating either way really, but that’s what works for me.
What inspired this post was an article that I read on Runner’s World about the power of motivational music post-workout. The Runner’s World article basically sums it up by saying, “Listening to music during recovery was associated with greater decreases in blood lactate and a reduction in perceived exertion.”
While this is true, if you click on the link to the abstract that they provide, you can easily come to a simpler conclusion that doesn’t have much to do with music. The researchers measured outcome variables like heart race, perceived exertion, lactic acid build up, and the number of steps they took while recovering. And yes, those who listened to music had significantly less lactic acid build up and less perceived exertion than those who did not. Easy conclusion to jump to: listening to music somehow decreases lactic acid buildup and speeds recovery. But the key to all of this is the fact that those who listened to music had an increased number of steps during the recovery process than those who didn’t. Basically, if you listened to motivational music, you walked around more, which helped you recover by easing the lactic acid in your blood. So, conclusion, listen to motivational music or don’t during recovery, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you increase your amount of voluntary activity by walking around A LOT (those who listened to music took around 499 steps on average).
Okay, this post is NOT about the awful Christmas Shoes song by the group “Newsong“, nor is it about the awful movie that they made based on it with Rob Lowe. And it’s not about Patton Oswalt‘s comedy routine about said song (although it is awesome and you need to look it up and watch it before finishing this post). It is about a pair of shoes that I purchased recently, on the 7th of January to be exact, that are so awesome, it feels like they were a Christmas gift. What magical shoes are these?
As the Joker once said, “Ta-da!” I present to you, the New Balance Minimus Trail Shoes. I keep wanting to type “minibus” even though that’s obviously wrong and has nothing to do with these shoes. Weird.
So these are my shoes, exact same color and everything. They even magically float in the air like that so you can see the side of one and the bottom of the other. For $108 you’re damn right they do that. Anyway, I won’t bore you with the technical aspects of them, you can read all about that here. But what I will do is talk about how awesome they are and why I love them. Then maybe you might considering buying them or something. Not that I have stock in New Balance or anything, so buy whatever the hell you feel like. But if you’re considering buying new shoes, or minimalist shoes, then you might want to consider what I have to say.
First, these shoes are LIGHT. My old shoes began to feel very heavy recently and it just seemed like a giant pain in the butt to even move my feet. Not anymore. These feel like practically nothing and because of their lightweight nature, I feel a lot lighter on my feet when I’m running. Because they are minimalist shoes, there’s no extra cushioning, or gel, or hard sores to soften the blow of foot on ground. There’s almost nothing there and it feels like there’s almost nothing there.
Second, (and this goes along with the first) these shoes allow your foot to feel everything. To some people, that might be a bad thing, but I am in love with it. In my old shoes I felt like each time I struck, it was my shoe hitting the ground and not my foot. I couldn’t really be sure of what part of my foot was hitting the ground, except it usually wasn’t my heel. These shoes really allow your toes and sole of the foot to feel each strike, to feel how you are landing and pushing off, and where your toes are each time you hit. It’s amazing because it allows me to adjust with each stride and know exactly what my foot is doing, and it’s cutting down on my pronation in a big way.
Third, they do an awesome job of encouraging a mid-foot strike. My mechanics feel super good in this shoe. I am nowhere close to landing on my heel and it seems quite effortless to land mid-foot, whereas because I had to make more of a concerted effort to avoid landing on the big heel of my old shoes. There’s a certain feeling you get when you are really hitting a good stride and it usually takes me about 4 miles to get there. In these, I feel like I am that much closer to that point when I start out.
So overall, I’m really hoping this shoe gets me a PR in Pittsburgh because I am having a great time with it. Granted, I have yet to log any long runs, but I feel that if my form is improved then logging more distance won’t be a problem. I’ll probably post every month or so with updates, but at this point in time, I’m giving these 5 stars on Netflix.
*Or rather, an upcoming post is going to talk about my new running shoes, so this is a post about my history of running, to set the stage for that future post. Thus, a brief history of the time that I’ve been loving/hating running.
I started “running” when I was in high school, preparing for junior varsity soccer tryouts. A friend of mine who had been there and done that, told me that the first week was running intensive, so I knew I had to get into running shape. We lived near a cemetery back in Syracuse and my dad mapped out a 1 mile route to train on. I absolutely hated it. I was really self conscious of looking stupid while running, even though the only people who would see me were other people running in the cemetery or people there visiting their deceased loved ones (who probably wouldn’t even be looking at me anyway). Regardless, this didn’t last long as I quit every run short and would be so angry after/during that my head was spinning. Weird right?
For years, I didn’t get back into any recreational running. The only running I did was during soccer, which was almost all sprinting and interval style work, which suits my style more than endurance running. I’m pretty stocky and my frame isn’t build for long strides but rather quickness and agility. I think I ran on a treadmill about 5 times during my college career.
Fast forward to post college and my three best friends start seriously training for half marathons and marathons. I resist and the extent of my running is 5 miles of the Buffalo Half Marathon and then walking the rest with my friend who had an injured knee. Then somewhere along the line I decided I actually wanted to run the Pittsburgh half marathon while my friends did the full. So I decided to invest in some real running shoes and bought a pair of ASICS after having a friend look at my stride while she worked at Pacers.
The Marathon was in May of 2009. My training for the half consisted of 6-7 mile runs every other day of the week with a final long run of 10 miles a few weeks before. I finished in around 2:07, which wasn’t bad for someone who “hates running.” That was the extent of my racing for a long time.
Flash forward to July 2010 when I ran the Saratoga Firecracker 4 and the Utica Boilermaker.
I did a 10k that August and realize I don’t really like running, but I enjoy the rush of racing, if that makes any sense. But I ended up running a few 10ks, a few 15ks, and then got the idea that I wanted to run the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2011. I got really psyched up for it and then got a brutal ankle injury in the spring that basically ended my marathon training. So I settled for the half instead and finished two minutes slower than my first time.
After the half I hit a rut and didn’t plan for any more races. I ran a half during the summer in Lake George and that was basically it.
Most of my athletics still focused on soccer, but I started getting into biking more. I ran a few more times in the summer/fall, but didn’t feel right and started to get a pain/numbness in my left foot. This foot had been giving me other problems earlier in the year, when my little toe started to scrape against the toebox and I got larger shoes so I wouldn’t lose the nail. This pain caused me to basically cease running. It was okay with it at first because I was enjoying biking. But then it got too cold to bike outside and I started heading to the gym. There are a limited number of bikes at the gym and almost unlimited treadmills, so sometimes I stood there waiting for a bike and wishing I was running. But something was holding me back. As lame as it sounds, it was the shoes. Sound too easy? Too good to be true perhaps? I wish it was, or rather, I don’t. I started running again on 1/10/2012 and am feeling better than ever. How is this possible? Stay tuned for my shoe review.