Does running make the runner or is it all about the toys

We are a society obsessed by gadgets and paraphernalia. Sportswear makers and running magazines bombard us with teasers about the latest running watch with more features than a Sunday supplemen

Pick a sport, any sport. Any sport other than running. Golf for example. To play Golf, one requires two things: 1) Technical ability 2) The appropriate tools and clothing - golf clubs, golf balls, golf shoes, a golf course. or Football: 1) Technical ability - how to control a ball 2) a football, shin pads, shorts, t-shirt, a football pitch If one were to ask anybody about any sport and what is required to do that activity, at some point a list of equipment and apparel will enter the conversation. Yet if one were to ask the same question about running, most people would probably respond: “you just go out and run” In a way, this is how most runners start off. One day they get up at the crack of dawn, throw on a pair of shorts, an old t-shirt and the trainers they do the gardening in and set off at 200bpm around the park. However, we are a society obsessed by gadgets and paraphernalia. Sportswear makers and running magazines bombard us with teasers about the latest running watch with more features than a Sunday supplement. Advances in clothing technology suggest we can run further, faster, wick-mesh drier and in pretty fluorescents without looking like a 90’s step-fit reject. There is now a shoe for every type of running surface, a t-shirt for every condition, portable hydration systems that allow the runner to focus on the art of running and not if they are going to collapse from dehydration. Yet recent running literature spins a different story. Christopher McDougall’s novel Born To Run tells the tale of barefoot running. He writes about a Mexican tribe of runners called the Tarahumara who fashion flip flops out of old car tyres to protect their feet but essentially run barefoot for miles and miles in the desert mountains. McDougall speculates that the evolution of support systems in trainers has weakened the human foot making it more susceptible to to collapsed arches and debilitating tendentious related injuries. He posits that over and under pronation are a consequence of ill-designed running shoes that exacerbate the natural roll of the human foot. Richard Askwith’s Feet In The Clouds tells stories of the men and women Fell runners who set records, still unbroken, running with the most basic of running gear. “Well if you put it that way, the answer to your question is simple,” I hear you mutter, “successful running comes from passion, fancy kit is just bumpf to make us feel part of a special tech’d out club. Thank you very much, no need to read any further. Click ‘next’ to continue.” STOP WAIT PLEASE There is more to it than this. Sure on the face of things it is very clear cut, but life is never clear cut and neither is running. After reading these books and talking to other runners who have adopted the barefoot running technique I am not disagreeing with what they are saying. If I were a purist, I would suggest we cast away any running shoe which isn’t of minimalist design and persevere until we have corrected half a century of damage but my position in this debate centres on a more practical solution: Education is the key; a little bit of knowledge will get you far. I think running is 80% passion and 20% equipment. Although running is a great way to loose weight and work towards a healthy lifestyle, if you do not truly love the activity then it will become nothing more than 30 mins pounding away to the treadmill slave-master three times a week. If you do love it however, then invest in some kit: Specialised running socks will reduce the chance of blisters; if you run on country trails, buy trail shoes - they’ll last longer. Advances in shorts, technical T-shirts and light weight windbreaks mean you can run warm, light and visible through those dark winter nights and a basic running watch will count the miles for you which means you can focus on your surroundings. Don’t go mad, you don’t need to become an advertisement for Nike or Brooks but there is no reason why one cannot take advantage of the thousands of dollars they have invested in research to help yourself.

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