Wednesday, October 14, 2009

And why exactly is a thrust enhancer not sold at a different kind of store?

This year, I've read a lot of books that were not required by school, neither one I attended nor the one for which I worked, though I no doubt read many books to my students. I don't count, however, any children's book with the exception of Where the Wild Things Are, which was written and illustrated well enough to elicit my wonder as much as that of the kids, possibly more.

Today I read the last three quarters of Stephen McDougall's Born to Run, a melodramatic description of ultrarunning that was still good enough to make running 100 miles sound interesting. Perhaps the only way to make running 100 miles sound interesting is through melodrama, though anyone with any experience around running would have gotten tired of reading for the umpteenth time about how some slob decided to give running a try and ran 20 miles one morning, another 20 after lunch and then 15 again in the evening. Still, there were many stories worth reading, particularly of the harsh trails and tough runners in Mexico's Copper Canyon.

One of the best parts of the book was when McDougall took aim at running shoe companies, which are somewhat like American health insurance companies in that they enjoy a market in the billions of dollars by selling a product without any conceivable benefit. In case you have never bought a pair of running shoes at what would be called a "reputable" running store, the process goes something like this:

Someone making around ten dollars an hour who, if you're lucky, has some training as a chiropractor or yoga instructor, will watch you run and then inform you in language used by only those who make money off of people's feet, that you need to spend money to save your feet from impending doom. If you're luckier still, you might get to run on a treadmill hooked up to a video camera, or possibly on a video camera hooked up to a treadmill.

Apparently, the only way to run these days is for most people to place roughly 300-400 grams of rubber, under their feet and replace them at an alarming frequency. Since most people don't know much about running and the people who sell shoes are at best aspiring yoga instructors who know about eighteen different ways to make a banana smoothie, nobody ever really thinks to ask whether running shoes with dual-density medial posts, midfoot thrust enhancers or computer chips have ever been proven to prevent an injury.

The answer, of course, is that they haven't. This is pseudo-scientific nonsense of the same kind well-meaning grandparents who don't run direct at those who run. I've been told to run with a few dollars worth of pennies in my pockets for resistance, do cocaine before races for the stimulation, not run in the rain because I'll slip and fall, cover my mouth when running in the winter so my lungs don't freeze, and to drink something like a litre of water for every hour I run, lest I turn up dead like some Death Valley hikers: choked to death trying to get moisture from dirt.

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