My lovely wife and I recently returned from a ten-day trip to Badlands, Glacier, Waterton Lakes, and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks. Between the ~50 hours we spent driving, we managed to pack in a couple of ambitious trail runs, enjoy a two-day backpacking trip, and successfully summit six mountains. I thought I’d share a few of our pictures:
As a medical student and an amateur runner (emphasis on “amateur”), I’ve naturally been drawn into the debate over traditional vs. “minimalist” running shoes.
Honestly, I only started running regularly about five months ago, after recovering from a knee injury. I normally run 2-3 days per week, including a weekly “long run” of 13+ miles (typically 15-20, but this is gradually increasing). I’m currently signed up for a trail marathon in September and a trail 50k in October…and if those go well, I’d really like to attempt a 50 mile race sometime next year.
When I ran cross country back in high school, I’d never even heard of minimalist running. At least not as something people took seriously. We had one guy on the team who sometimes ran barefoot…but this was the same guy who routinely carried 2-3 apples to the starting line of each race, then casually ate them – core, seeds, and all – while waiting for the gun to go off.
Anyway, the theory is that “normal” running shoes encourage bad form by forcing runners to land heel-first. By running barefoot, or in shoes designed to simulate running barefoot, the runner lands more naturally on the forefoot or midfoot. This theoretically reduces impact on the runner’s knees, hips, and back, resulting in fewer overall injuries. On the other hand, there’s also some evidence that this places additional strain on the calf and Achilles tendon.
Here’s a more detailed comparison of the running forms, for those interested:
There’s actually a new study out last month that lends some additional credibility to the forefoot running argument. It comes out of Harvard, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. The data is pretty compelling, although the obvious downside was the homogeneous, relatively small sample size (only 52 total runners, all college athletes). The findings, summarized:
“Competitive cross-country runners on a college team incur high injury rates, but runners who habitually rearfoot strike have significantly higher rates of repetitive stress injury than those who mostly forefoot strike. This study does not test the causal bases for this general difference. One hypothesis, which requires further research, is that the absence of a marked impact peak in the ground reaction force during a forefoot strike compared with a rearfoot strike may contribute to lower rates of injuries in habitual forefoot strikers.”
Imagine this “impact peak in the ground reaction force” as the initial *jolt* you feel when your foot hits the ground. Jolts are bad.
On a personal note, I believe I’ve benefited from concentrating on my running form. My strides are much quicker and shorter than they used to be, and I now land midfoot, knees bent (rather than on the heel with the leg extended). I’ve also noticed that my form tends to improve after 4-5 miles of running, as I naturally settle into a more efficient stride.
My opinion on forefoot/minimalist running? It seems to make intuitive sense, but I need to see more research. I remain skeptical of the translation many are making between Bronze Age desert running and your average American marathoner who logs scores of miles each week on asphalt and concrete. I think minimalist running is intriguing and worth cautiously and gradually easing into, but wouldn’t recommend slapping on a pair of FiveFingers and immeditely attempting an aggressive training plan.
Use common sense, basically.
My wife and I hadn’t been backpacking together for awhile, so we took advantage of the long weekend to plan a 3-night, 43-mile trip in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Although we were sad to have missed our church’s Easter services, I paraphrase a wise man who once said, “It’s better to be hiking in the mountains thinking about the Lord, than sitting in church thinking about hiking in the mountains.”
My wife and I do a lot of backpacking. We like to say that it’s an expensive hobby to get into, but once all the supplies are purchased, you have a ticket to a lifetime of cheap vacations.
We had a great time, but I definitely learned a few lessons:
- When planning a high-mileage trip, be certain beforehand that everyone in the group is up to the challenge.
- Get an early start (and NOT at the expense of skipping meals).
- Apparently, five days of strenuous hiking is the best way to cure ITBS. I’m now walking pain-free for the first time in two months! The things they neglect to teach us in medical school…
“The sea’s only gifts are harsh blows, and, occasionally, the chance to feel strong. Now, I don’t know much about the sea, but I do know that that’s the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing the blind, deaf stone alone with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head.” -from “Into the Wild”
A few weeks ago, I competed in one of my first long-distance races.
32+ miles on foot, in 8 inches of snow, across rolling hills, on what is historically the coldest weekend of the year. It was a tough race, but the views were outstanding (at least until the final 10 miles, which were in total darkness).
I figured I’d post a couple pictures.