Right Run, Wrong Shoes

A running shoe is just like a tool - you need the right one for the job. Today, quite by chance, I ran in a shoe that didn't match the job. Now my feet and ankles are a little sore. But it's not the shoe's fault because I ran on them in conditions for which they weren't designed.

Where I live, it's the mud season. The last of the snow is just melting off my favorite mountain trail which is a few miles from our house. Sometimes when the snow or mud is too deep, I'll run with my wife on the asphalt road in the valley where the trail takes off. There's a parking area. I head up the trail, she runs up the valley on the asphalt.

Today I figured it would be that kind of day because it snowed and rained last night. The trail was bound to be super muddy, so I laced on a pair of Saucony Pro Grids, a good shoe for asphalt because of its cushioning. But when we got to the parking area at the base of the trail, the road up looked not too bad. The warm air and a slight breeze had dried some of the mud. I couldn't resist the call of the trail and headed up.

The first stretch wasn't bad because it climbs and faces slightly south. It had dried pretty well for the first eighth of a mile and some ATVers had packed a couple of ruts, but when I got to the first flat stretch there was mud and the ruts deepened. I tried to run at the edge were the dirt was drier, but in many places the mud was unavoidable.

Two thirds of the way up the trail, the trail becomes more rocky. There was still patches of snow and the Saucony's would slip there, too. I recalled winter runs on my Vasques which are stiff and have big lugs on the soles. Some might consider them clunky, but in snow, which is all I use them for, they are very sure-footed. They grip and hold my foot level, even when on the side on an incline, just like the edge of a ski.

And on the rocks, the Saccony's, slipped, twisting my feet, and I could feel their hard edges of the rocks stabbing into the bottoms of my feet. I had to laugh because the trail was beating the hell out of me.

I thought about some of the shoe ads I just had been reading in Runner's World, just before I went on this run. Ever since the huge success of McDougall's Born to Run, which launched the bare-foot running craze, the shoe manufacturers have been madly engineering a new breed of "minimalist" (their word) shoes. They tout that they are lighter and the heel is closer to the ground so you can "feel" it. I guess this is what they have identified are the key features of the huaraches the great native trail runners in Copper Canyon down in Mexico run on.

Looking at those ads, my Sauconys don't look that much different. The hot new shoes look flashy, but too skimpy for running in the Rocky Mountains. Sometime I'll give a pair a try. A TOJ needs to be open minded. I think within a year or two, there will be lots of clearance sales for these minimalist designs.

Meantime, the run was still awesome. There's nothing like sun, mud, and melting snow. I'll wash up my Sauconys so they are ready to go on the asphalt where they belong.

Sweat: The Fountain of Youth

Gretchen Reynolds of the NY Times reports about some very promising experiments with mice that indicate vigorous exercise slows and, in some cases, reverses the negative effects of aging. What surprised the investigators was that exercise not only had an age retarding effect on muscles, including the heart, but all the tissues in the body.

This is promising news. Too many people (a much higher percentage than exercise hard) are preoccupied with hiding the surface effects of aging. Superficial stuff like face lifts, human growth hormone injections, botox injections, and laser vein removal are a multi-billion dollar business. But those are all only skin deep and have nothing to do with health and maintaining your ability to live independently as you age. What's really important to your long term well-being is what's going on under your skin.

The big three debilitating conditions of old age are:

Muscle Loss - You can't lift groceries or walk to a car. You lose your balance and become prone to falls.
Brain Shrinkage - You can't remember things, get confused easily, can't manage your money.
Bone loss - You become prone to fractures when you fall.

Yes, there are some others like a lower sex drive or less bladder control, but those are inconveniences when compared with the life-altering problems caused by the big three.

A TOJ practices a mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercise, especially resistance, to delay the big three. The variety of exercises is fun, but, more importantly, cause more beneficial results in your body. Sometimes you read that an everyday activity such as walking 30 minutes is enough keep you strong and healthy. I have a hunch it takes more than that. Exercise physiologists have known for a long time that it's necessary to interrupt the routine equilibrium of the muscles for them to grow stronger. As you age, you must make them work in different ways just to maintain their strength and mass. The good news is that you can sustain much of your muscle strength and function well into old age.

Focus on your muscles and most other things will take care of themselves. When you work the muscles hard you will also keep invigorating blood flow to the brain (and stimulate Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, the elixir of brain health) and place stress on the bones, which naturally stimulates them to grow stronger. Your exercise must be supported by a diet with lots of protein, minerals and phytonutrients found in vegetables and fruit to provide the rebuilding in your tissues which occurs after exercise.

You don't want to be one of those people who suffer the big three because they just assume that as you age you are supposed to be more sedentary and let your body fall into disuse, as if  your natural role is to spend all your time sitting on your butt playing chess or poker. Resist the stereotypes you see on TV. Ignore the absence of grey-hairs in sports magazines.

Reynolds reports that one of the professors in charge of the study was impressed how the older mice who exercised had still kept their hair. His younger graduate students were more impressed by how the mice's ovaries and gonads had maintained a healthy size. Now all the grad students exercise. Yep, makes you want to pump some iron.