Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How in running, kayaking, (and in life)..."hard line" attitudes can land you short of the runway!

In my (humble) opinion, having a broad, flexible, and open mind is the ideal approach to life. It's the "hard line" (dogmatic, inflexible, absolutist, and narrow) attitudes that get us in trouble and can cause us to land "short of the runway". Here's a little recent background to that thought.

Yesterday, while running on a fairly "technical" trail (simply meaning, lots of rocks, roots, and fallen trees etc) in my Vibram FiveFingers (extremely minimalist running "shoes"), I landed on a small, but pointed rock, resulting in a very slight bruising to the forefoot. No big deal, but this morning, it was still a little tender and that presented the following dilemma:
  • Should I go back out today in the VFFs, and, given that they offer very little protection, possibly risk further bruising? Hmm, this could result in further injury that might require several more days of recovery.
  • OK, Option 2: Would it be better to take the day off from running and give the foot a little time to settle down? Seemed a responsible solution, but it didn't hurt that much and I really wanted to go running.
  • Or, Option 3: Should I simply bring out the old and trusty Salomon trail runners (conventional running shoes) and give the forefoot a little more protection for the day?
Wear running shoes? Never! After all, I'm a minimalist runner. Heck, I even drive some people crazy (others I seem to have driven away) by going on about it and if I go back to running shoes, even for a day, I may appear insincere. Worse, I might even be seen to be a hypocrite, given my constant "sermonizing" about the benefits and common sense elements of minimalist running. (Ahh, you see, there's my own hard line attitude creeping in there!)

I  began to realize that I had gone through all this self-questioning because I had begun to "buy in" to the philosophy of a few minimalist and barefoot runners out there. Again, it's the hard line, the "take no prisoners", no compromising attitude. If you're not running exclusively barefoot, you're not a barefoot runner. If you wear anything more substantial than Vibram FiveFingers, you're not really a minimalist runner. If you wear conventional running shoes, then you're probably a heel-striker. I've even heard some folks distinguish between "runners" and "joggers" - the latter described by the former with a slight rolling of the eye and disparaging tone. Rather, I like what John 'The Penguin" Bingham said, "If you run, you are a runner." That's an open attitude.

You see hard line attitudes in the sea kayaking world as well. Some folks get themselves in a knot over whether a kayak should have a rudder or a skeg or whether a paddle should be feathered or unfeathered or whether an inflatable kayak is a real kayak. I read in one blog that if a paddler doesn't have a "bomb proof" roll, then he's (she's) not an authentic sea kayaker. Give me a break!

In my mind, anyone who, for example, loves to run or sea kayak should remember that the most important thing about either sport is that the participant experiences the inherent joy of the activity. We sometimes forget that. Runners wearing "proper" running shoes sometimes look at barefoot runners as if they're nut cases. In a similarly narrow way, barefoot runners can be guilty of making shod runners feel as if they are anachronisms for not stepping up to this new (to our generation) form of running. I've said this before, if someone feels the joy and exhilaration of running while wearing cowboy boots or stilettos, and doesn't get injured, what's the problem? Unless they're running on your expensive hardwood floors!

I'm impressed by a common thread in the words of accomplished runners such as Danny Dreyer, Christopher McDougall, Michael Sandler, Caballo Blanco de la Sierra Madre (Micah True), Barefoot Ted McDonald, and the late Dr. George Sheehan. All of these amazing individuals and athletes have their preferences but all show an open mind. It is my observation, that with each of the above, the common thread is the joy they feel for running. Hard line attitudes rarely radiate joy and they most often result in the drawing of lines in the sand (or on the trail or on the water or whatever). Drawing such lines in the sand distracts and diminishes the possibility of shared joy. It's the same, I think, in life. Hard line attitudes alienate, divide, and turn people against one another. A broad, flexible, and open mind invites the fullest experience of the outdoor self-propelled passions we pursue and the shared and cooperative life most of us seek to live on this planet.

By the way, this morning, I ended up putting the Salomon trail runners on - and headed out the door. Having made the "attitude adjustment", it was a great run. That choice made a whole lot more sense than staying home and being a grumpy "minimalist-only" runner - an experience, in my mind, that would be similar to landing short of the runway!

At least that's the way I see it. Your thoughts on this would be warmly welcome.

Cheers all,


PS:  The image above is one we took at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum (the home of the "Spruce Goose"), in McMinnville, Oregon.

Another PS: This posting was the featured "Blog of the Week" at the Barefoot Runners Society website. Gosh, thanks folks!


  1. Having an open mind is the only way to live life.I think you made the right decision. Not only would you have had a miserable day if you hadn't run...those around you would have suffered too. LOL There is always a limit when it comes to one's health. Safety comes first, desires follow and really what everyone else thinks doesn't even matter.

  2. I could take this opportunity to write a nice eloquent diatribe about your thoughts but the truth is you said everything I preach. I am a minimalist runner because I enjoy it and it let my knee pain disappear. Truth is though that if I could have gotten rid of the knee pain without losing the shoes I would be fine with that as well. I am firm believer that the world is big enough for all worlds of belief and we need to accept that not everyone is the same as we may be. I also talk a lot about how I do not see this is a minimalist/barefoot vs. the shod people issue. For me it's a "do you run with proper form?" issue. Good for you Duncan for being smart and doing what was best for you and your body. Far too many people are coming to me with injuries because they did too much without shoes, gave in to the image stigma of wearing shoes again, or let their ego get the best of them. This was one of the best pieces of writing I've read in a long time my friend. Great work.

  3. Thanks L, I like your order of priorities. So much of what we do is often under the pressure of what we perceive others will think. As you suggest, we inherently know what the right thing is...so we should just get on with it and do it.

    Jimmy, I very much appreciate your words. You've seen a lot of this in your work and, as above, there's always pressures to conform. The BRS "one odd look at a time" thing sure beats sore knees and all the other usual injuries. As you say, the bottom line is form. For me it began with the mid-foot landing and cadence. We'll stay in touch.

  4. Well Duncan, you could have stayed home with Joan for one day and healed together :>) - Sheila

  5. Hi Sheila, Nah, I've got my priorities - smile! The good news is that Joan's back on the trail and the broken toe is much improved. Running, however, with increased "mindfulness". D.

  6. I feel a very similar way about the attitudes in paddling regarding things like skeg vs rudder or Fiberglass vs plastic. I despise the concept that you can't be a skilled paddler if you paddle a ruddered kayak, or the only real kayaks are fiberglass, or you have to use a greenland stick. I think what ever works for you, and makes you happy is enough.


  7. A sensible decision as always, Duncan. You've got that running goal to meet this year, after all, one way or another.

  8. Nice to hear from you, PO. Your current "nav" series is excellent. Sea kayakers out there wishing to learn / improve / fine-tune skills should check PO's site out!

    Hi Andrew, good to have you drop by. I'm afraid the running goal was a bit optimistic but still time!

  9. hey duncan
    i adored this artice in it's fullest as per normal. i wish i had time to comment more but im on a cellphone connection that rivals only that in rural africa.
    well written and I agree 100%.

  10. Hey Lee, good to hear from you. Hope you and your family are having a great vacation out there. Looking forward to reading about your adventures. Duncan.