We live in a capitalist world. Whether you’re comfortable with that or not it’s the prevailing societal view so we kinda need to deal with it. Yeah, it’s good in some ways and yeah, it’s bad in some (many) ways.
In my mind capitalism and consumerism are one and the same thing.
Capitalism/consumerism is perpetuated by ‘the media’, that all encompassing term for that which has an influence over us in the written or visual form – adverts, TV, newspapers, magazines etc etc. The bastard, ginger step-child of consumerism and ‘the media’ is the fad. ‘The media’ (and we’re just gonna go ahead and accept that throughout this piece the inverted comma before/after the media is extant in each use of the phrase) is awesome (sarcasm) at selling the myth (or not….everyone’s opinion is valid yada-yada) that whilst we may be ok we can can definitely be better if we do this, that or the other. That is where the fad comes in.
Running is 100% a victim of this phenomenon and I’m gonna explore why. So here goes…..
From the extensive and exhausting research that I have undertaken I have concluded that the fad affects us runners in three key areas; gear, nutrition and training. Inside these three over-arching categories are a few sub-categories. So come on, let’s have a look…..
- Shoes – I’m looking at YOU road running! It’s a bit easier in fell-running to be fair; accepted thinking/consensus is that you need grip and a bit of cushioning and not a right lot else (though for some reason inov-8 have about a ga-gillion colour variations of the same shoe or shoes that, when you take more than a fleeting glance, are actually pretty much the exact same shoe just with a different name – Mudclaw and X-Talon 225). In road running then, fuck me, you have a thousand-ga-gillion shoes all battling for shelf space. There’s this false economy invested in gait analysis which purports to define you into some box (a shoe box if you will) according to how some inadequately trained assistant has decided to interpret your foot-strike (insert a million other variables) on a particular day on a treadmill in the converted store cupboard of a shop. From there you become a ‘neutral’ runner or ‘over-pronator’ or whatever (by the way we ALL pronate to some degree or other, you couldn’t walk otherwise). They’ve got you by the tits then and pretty soon you’ll be forking out on orthotics and other shit that you don’t need. If you have a problem with your gait go to a trained medical professional for a proper opinion not some kid out of school who’s making some coin on the weekend. In my experience find the shoe that suits your needs, try it on (it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been told you’re neutral/pronator/supinator etc etc), if it’s comfortable and fits well then, hey, you’re probably going to be alright. P.S. I’m not just picking on inov-8 there, if you want a bamboozling array of trainers try deciphering the differences in some of Salomons trail shoes some time – wowza! Also, don’t even get me started on ‘minimalist’ vs ‘maximalist’.
- Compression – so the jury’s out on this one. Some people swear by them and others think they’re a load of shite. I’m on the fence to be honest. In fact no I’m not. They’ve never worked for me (I’ve had the calf ‘guards’) so to me, yeah, they’re shite. They fit into the acupuncture/holistic medicine sphere in my head as in, they’re all in the head. A pure placebo. But……I’m waiting to be convincingly proved wrong and, importantly, I’m more than open to being proved wrong as they’d be a great asset if they were genuinely effective. I guess, though, that I’ve stumbled upon the answer already, in that if you perceive them to work for/benefit you, then they’ll work for you. End of. I’d just be careful before pinning all your hopes on a flimsy bit of lycra that some ‘scientist’, who by the way is being paid handsomely by the company who’s product his ‘research’ happens to positively support, has told you is 17% more effective at promoting blood flow due to the impregnation of said lycra with baby eel sperm or whatever it is this week.
- Watches – ok so watches aren’t a fad. I’m pretty certain that they’re useful and pretty effective at what they do. I’m on about sports watches, especially GPS sports watches with flippin’ wrist-based heart rate in/on them. WTF. Now at first glance I’d appear to be a hypocrite. I use a sports watch with a HR monitor. It works well for my training and I fully prescribe to it but I draw the line at spending not much shy of £1000 (a damn good car in my experience) on a watch with half-baked technology. The things now have more data output than my laptop. I also can’t remember the last time I needed to record wave oscillation whilst wind-surfing….probably because I’ve never even flippin’ been wind-surfing yet my bastard watch is geared up for me doing that. Why?! Why not if it gets you to spend more money on it by bragging about all these features that you might one day use. That’s the heart of the matter. These things are like insurance policies. You spend retarded amounts of money on them in the chance that you may use them when, if you sit and think for a second longer, you’ll know that you 99% never will. Fuck it though, it looks cool.
- Diets – another one I’m guilty of to some extent. Nutrition in running is funking mahoosive. You’ve probably all seen ‘The Athlete’s Cookbook’ or ‘The No Meat Athlete’ (catchy) or ‘Racing Weight Cookbook’ ad infinium. No?? Come round my house, I’ve got at least one of them on the shelf. It’s all bollocks at the end of the day. You know why? I listened to an interview the other day with Matt Fitzgerald the co-author of ‘Racing Weight Cookbook’ who said, and I paraphrase, that “diet is no where near as important as training….if you train well you can eat what you like in moderation with a few obvious exceptions….” This from a guy who makes money writing books on what you should/could eat to improve your running. Now he isn’t being disingenuous with doing that. His cookbook after all isn’t advocating the notion that if you don’t eat the recipes in his book you will somehow become a crap runner or never improve as a runner, but he acknowledges that there is little credence in sticking religiously to a super strict vegan/paleo/eggs-only/three-apples-six-quails-feet-and-half-a-cucumber-only diet. Sure, if you cram your innards with highly processed meats and factory ‘veg’ all day everyday it’s unlikely you’ll win points for style at your next 10k but restricting your calorie intake by drastic amounts whilst not putting the hours on the fells/roads/treadmill can actually be more detrimental to your running goals. This segues nicely onto the topic of gels…..
- Gels – Black and white to me. Gels can fuck off. It’s well catalogued that for activities under 90mins you have enough stored carbohydrates to see you right. Anything more than that…..eat some proper scran! This is the ultimate boom-fad in my eyes. A classic insurance-policy move from those sneaky swines at Gu/High5/SIS etc etc etc etc to make you scared of running out of energy, or not even that. They play on the fear that you might run out of carbs in a 90min run…though by the time you realise you might be, you’re right near the finish anyway so by the time that gel has gone into your system you’ll be cocooned in a stress position on the drive home from the race. Once you start with a gel on a longer run you have to keep going with them otherwise the bonk/crash you feel when they inevitably ‘run out’ will see you zombie-ing to a stop on some lonely trail in the middle of nowhere. You’re in the shit then aren’t you?!
- 80/20 – another one from that cookbook guy Matt Fitzgerald. I’m not saying it’s wrong at all, it could very well revolutionise your running and I hope it does. It’s just some guys theory at the end of the day though with ‘evidence’ neatly dovetailed to support his view. Fact check is all I’m suggesting. I only found out about this the other day so again, it may be the golden ticket. Basically you should be training 80% of the time at low intensity and 20% at mid to high intensity, in other words if you’re mental enough to run a 100 mile week then 80 miles should be dead slow and 20 miles should be hard-wiring your legs into a squirrel’s brain. Apparently we’re all at around the 50/50 mark at the minute. It’s quite tricky to have the discipline to run slow to race fast (I’m pretty sure there’s a book advocating this, or a similar, approach).
- LSD – drugs undoubtedly help with running but no, here I’m talking about Long Slow Distance running. It ties in with the above point though it’s fairly safe to say that this is much, much less of a fad and is more of an accepted method of training, certainly if your goal is towards the marathon distance. Sunday long run anyone??
- Quality vs Quantity – I have fully bought into this ‘fad’ to the point where I don’t believe it is a ‘fad’ but in the interests of balance and non-bias I have included it. As the title suggests this way of thinking asserts that quality training (no ‘junk’ miles) is better than pure volume. It’s better to do 20 structured miles with clear goals and targets than 80 miles (there’s that subliminal ’80/20′ again) of trash just to get your weekly mileage up because that’s what all the great, elite runners do. Think again buddy! Why not just do 80 quality miles then smart-ass?? Well, you’ll flippin’ kill yourself trying to run all 80 of your training miles at 5k pace, you dick!
- Forefoot vs midfoot vs heel…foot (!?) – this is a good one. It’s another that I’m acutely aware of as I also prescribed to it. The theory seems legit but it’s when, like me, you buy into the add-ons that you fall victim to the ‘lure of the fad’. Firstly, what is it? It became popular mainly ‘thanks’ to a book called ‘Born to Run’ by some guy called Chris MacDougall. His theory was almost purely anecdotal and basically followed the ‘science’ of “some guys in the Mexican deserts run a lot over long distances in sandals and so therefore everyone should wear little to nothing on their feet because if it works for them it’ll work for you”. Or an idea to that effect. I realise that I’ve glossed over a fair chunk of slightly more legitimate thinking. The point remains the same…..it’s pretty pure speculation coated with a veneer of respectability. Essentially then, if you run on your toes (the typical give-away of a fore-foot striker) then you’ll run faster. Just look at sprinters, no heel-strikers there. Theory proven. It goes a little deeper than that though. So, by running with a heel-striking technique the idea follows that by landing with the back of your foot first you’re effectively braking, putting excess load onto your muscles, tendons and bones, and forcing your body to restart, rather than recycle, the turnover process causing you to slow right down or at least become inefficient. By transitioning to a fore- or mid-foot strike you’re allowing a more seamless turnover and reducing the risk of injury to your hips or knees. All well and good right? Yeah, I guess so. Got a few quezzies though…..does this mean I won’t ever get injured again by adopting a fore- or mid-foot strike? Nope. You simply move the injury potential away from the hips and knees to the calves, achilles and ankles. It’s ok though cos all the elite runners are doing it right? Nope. According to a study in 2004 (and published in 2007) some 75% of elite runners in the Sapporro International Half Marathon in Japan landed on their heel with just four out of two hundred and eighty three male and female combined running on their fore-foot. Now that’s an extreme example there and it’s obviously been wheeled out to support my argument/standpoint disputing the validity of fore- or mid-foot striking being inherently better than heel-striking. However it proves that the argument as advocated by Chris MacDougall and others is not the accepted wisdom that they may have you believe. Shoe companies are slowly cottoning on to that too……case in point, have you seen many Vibram 5-fingers ‘shoes’ lately? Didn’t think so.
At the end of the day spend the money you have on whatever it is you want to spend it on. All I ask (and again you can ignore me cos at the end of the day who am I to you??) is that you make the informed decision that is best for you and if you do have to have that kitchen-sink of a watch or the 80/20 training program then do so ethically and responsibly.
The indirect beauty of running is that all you really need is a pair of shoes and something to cover up your crown-jewels. Perhaps the last word on the matter should go to the famously un-famous oracle that is…Billy Burns:
“Instead of measuring those calories, poring through how-to magazines and shoe-buyers guides, worrying about the weather forecast; instead of downloading streams of heart-rate data; rather than logging-on to a website forum and talking about yourself for hours – YOU COULD HAVE BEEN TRAINING!”
Go to it.