Fitness Decisions Made On Basis of "Anecdotal" Evidence

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    Jun 21, 2010 8:11 PM GMT
    This is a sort of interesting segue from discussions on more "political" forum topics about forming opinions and deciding behavior on FACTS rather than on impressions.

    I have been a competitive runner since the late 1970s. I've seen "fads" in running shoes, running apparel come and go, and have been very familiar with the actual research that supports the science behind these things.

    Many of you probably read the book by Christopher McDougall "Born to Run." It was a run away best seller, and does indeed tell the story of the author's interactions with the Tarahumara, and his participation in an ultamarathon race in Copper Canyon in Mexico. The book is an example of a bunch of such "near truth" books in the last few years...meaning the central events are truth, but the author then "fills in the blanks." (Other examples are Krakauer's and Junger's bookss, "Into Thin Air" and "The Perfect Storm").

    The trouble is, often the "fill in the blanks" part of these books are full of crap, frankly. The meteorology in "The Perfect Storm", for example, was perfectly dreadful. :-)

    Apart from McDougall's gentle mischaracterizations of some of the principal character's looks (as in he has "model good looks" describing guys I know and know perfectly well that they don't have model good looks), there is a whole section of the book purported to providing the scientific evidence for "barefoot" running, or running in "shoes" like the Vibram Five Finger "barefoot" shoe.

    The trouble with this is that when one actually investigates the research he cites, lot of it is not research but anecdotal. The fact of the matter is, so many runners decided to believe his very convincing prose yet the research he cited was mischaracterized, and also the result of a very small study. Turns out that the study was funded by someone who had designed and was in the process of marketing a cushionless running shoe.

    As to the book,

    :... It is just this kind of slightly sensational blurb copy that cheapens an interesting argument by overreaching with an extraordinary claim...."

    (from a review at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0NHF/is_1_28/ai_n52938047/)

    Here's what the American Podiatric Medical Association has to say:

    "...Barefoot running has been touted as improving strength and balance, while promoting a more natural running style. However, risks of barefoot running include a lack of protection--which may lead to injuries such as puncture wounds--and increased stress on the lower extremities. Currently, inconclusive scientific research has been conducted regarding the benefits and/or risks of barefoot running. ..."

    http://www.apma.org/MainMenu/News/MediaRoom/PositionStatements/APMA-Position-Statement-on-Barefoot-Running.aspx

    I've tried to cull through all of this and find that barefoot running probably IS a good idea for those who have no leg length discrepencies and other anatomical issues, even if slight, including flat feet. Unfortunately, the percentage of runners who don't fall into that class is very small.

    Anyway, just thought I'd post this because of the success of that book.





  • tazzari

    Posts: 2929

    Jun 21, 2010 10:50 PM GMT
    We used to get a lot of the anecdotal stuff in skiing; we called it "voodoo". "Someone said so-and-so is training 1200 hours a year; man! that's what I've got to do!" The result was usually disastrous.

    I think I've spent about half my coaching career trying to let the air out of the tires on the "latest" and the "so-and-so is running ten miles with his head in a plastic bag" stuff.

    When you come down to it, in sports, there's not much new - equipment evolves - but the body remains pretty much the same. As far as I can see, aside from illegal (an immoral) performance-enhancing drugs, the only real refinements have been a better understanding of nutrition and recovery.

    Nat
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    Jun 22, 2010 3:01 AM GMT
    Thanks, taz, I agree. But it's amazing how strongly the barefoot runners cite "research" evidence that really is suspect.
  • omatix

    Posts: 89

    Jun 22, 2010 3:17 AM GMT
    We need a lot more of this kind of reasoning.

    I'd say you could have written the same article on any number of topics - especially something like weight training, where people buy tons of supplements and train in odd ways that don't seem to have any solid basis.

    The same even goes for things like the amount of hours you put in studying for classes or working in an office. People pick something - often something that marks them out as "hardcore", such as being at work for long hours - and assume that it's a superior way to do an activity. It gets under my skin in a bad way, even though I know I'm often guilty of it, totally unaware until I look back at a decision later on.
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    Jun 22, 2010 3:22 AM GMT
    The only barefoot running I'll do is on the beach.
    I was considering the 5-fingers, but always like to try on shoes before buying them to prevent having to send them back or exchange them.
    For the past 10 years I've tried on every brand in the store when I went shoe shopping, and every time I've chosen Saucony. Fuck the "top brand" sales pitches. My feet base their decision on comfort.
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    Jun 22, 2010 4:02 AM GMT
    Sebastian Junger, LMAO. He's cute, but I always felt he was full of it.
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    Jun 22, 2010 4:15 AM GMT
    JackBlair saidSebastian Junger, LMAO. He's cute, but I always felt he was full of it.


    Gad, yes. He's pretty damn hot.

    And that novel was an excellent read. It's just that illusion of scientific truth that I'm complaining about.

    But yes, he's damn hot.
  • shoelessj

    Posts: 511

    Jun 22, 2010 5:03 AM GMT
    "Many of you probably read the book by Christopher McDougall "Born to Run." It was a run away best seller..."

    pun unintended, i'm sure. icon_wink.gif
  • tazzari

    Posts: 2929

    Jun 22, 2010 3:41 PM GMT
    <>

    Very good points!

    In the late 80's, the top skier was Torgny Mogren, Sweden. He won the over-all World Cup, and more Olympic and World Championship medals that I can count - and did it on a good 200 hours a year less than most. His "secret"? Technique and rest.

    when I was at U, I ended up with a 4.0, and I know I studied less than many others. Did I have a "secret"? Yes - rest, and focus/concentration.

    Hardcore does not necessarily equal success....
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    Jun 22, 2010 3:44 PM GMT
    * whines *

    But... but... research is HARD

    * pouts *

    * eagerly thumbs thru the pretty pictures in Men's Health *
  • tazzari

    Posts: 2929

    Jun 22, 2010 3:59 PM GMT
    * eagerly thumbs thru the pretty pictures in Men's Health *

    - Hey, that's my source! icon_smile.gif

    Nat
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    Jun 22, 2010 4:04 PM GMT
    iguanaSF said

    * eagerly thumbs thru the pretty pictures in Men's Health *


    Hah. iguanaSF could easily be in Men's Health as a "pretty picture." But I digress.

    As examples of McDougall's liberties with prose in service of keeping the readers' interest engaged, I have attached three pictures. All of these guys are excellent runners, and my point here is not to take a poke at any of them.

    But two of these participated in the Copper Canyon race popularized in the book. One did not.

    Two of these guys, the ones that competed, McDougall characterized as having "model good looks". The other he somewhat denigrates as self-promoting....and implies that the other two could be on magazine covers if they were as much into self promotion.

    Again, these guys are great runners and ARE good looking.

    But, sorry, of the three, my opinion is that only one has "model good looks." And it is the one McDougall criticizes pretty freely in the book.

    Which do you think is the guy who DID NOT run the race, A, B or C?

    Scott.jpg
    Dean.jpg
    Billy.jpg
  • tazzari

    Posts: 2929

    Jun 22, 2010 7:09 PM GMT
    Before the '88 Olympics we got followed around by camera crews (from a not-to-be-named network) while glacier training. The "interviews" were enlightening: before each one, they told the guys what they wanted them to say, and then fillmed them saying their lines. Some of the guys were willing to go along; then they edited the sequence. The resulting broadcast "interviews" had so little to do with what we were doing, aiming for, thought, were developing - that I've never watched that network again. They knew what they wanted: the story they had cooked up and wanted to run - what we were doing was irrelevant.

    I suspect that's very close to what you're saying.

    Nat
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    Jun 22, 2010 7:30 PM GMT
    tazzari said

    I suspect that's very close to what you're saying.



    Exactly. By the way, I don't mind a bit of tampering with the truth in pursuit of sort of historical fiction. But these books that pretend to be documentaries, but are really masking their own version of self-promotion are over the top.

    Incidentally, many of the runners featured in the book who supposedly were purists and extolled for shying public attention have their own obviously promotional web sites now.

    But the danger I see, in this case, is for novice runners who think that running barefoot is "going back to nature". So much of that in this book is hogwash.
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    Jun 22, 2010 7:37 PM GMT
    Right on the spot about blind trust on anything that :
    * Sound like 'scientific' work
    * Get some famous champ speaking for it
    * Get a lot of media attention

    The difficulty, about scientifical sound training, is that it's mostly about biology, with a bit of biomechanics.

    Biology is infinitly complex, about huge number of layers of knowleges interacting both with the up and down layers and across the whole stack.

    Biological knowledge is mostly solid hard science, but practical application, in medecine, sport training etc... need to extrapolate it.

    Something true locally can be wrong globally, an established causal relationship may be of little uses because other processes interact with it.

    Historically, sport training was a collection of 'cooking recipes', out of centuries personal experience and experimentation. Modern sport training integrated medical knowledge, but is still a mix of cooking recipes and science.
    Science mostly allowed to discard bad cooking recipes ("Wine sustain you better than water to run long distance', but it's still not possible to start from biological knowledge and end up with a complete training program.

    It's not unlike meteo forcast : it's getting better and better, yet it will never be possible to forcast if it will rain or not on your house in one year.

    Thank to the OP for promoting critical thinking ;-)
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    Jun 22, 2010 8:01 PM GMT
    minox said.

    It's not unlike meteo forcast : it's getting better and better, yet it will never be possible to forcast if it will rain or not on your house in one year.



    Oh, I can do that. icon_razz.gif

    Well, almost just kidding.

    Thanks for your input...you obviously are very fit and know what you are talking about.
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    Jun 22, 2010 8:13 PM GMT
    paulflexes saidThe only barefoot running I'll do is on the beach.
    I was considering the 5-fingers, but always like to try on shoes before buying them to prevent having to send them back or exchange them.


    Forgot to respond to your comment.

    I saw a guy running around Lake Merritt (a running trail that's concrete and asphalt bike trail, basically) yesterday. I could tell he must have read this book, because he was coming down strongly on his forefeet.

    He also appeared to be in his mid 20s. I mention the latter simply because (and this is my opinion only) that one can get away with lots of "misdeeds" in running when you are young.

    Running on the forefoot is fine for sprinters and even up through low-end middle distance runners (say 800 meters to 1200 meters). I think it does a lot of damage to the shins the further out beyond those distances you try to run at pace. When you combine that with the tremendous pounding this guy was taking on concrete (may be different on a composition surface or rubberized asphalt track), I think this guy will regret this eventually.

    I hope I am wrong. But that's the kind of thing I worry about with respect to these fads started by the popular press.
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    Jun 22, 2010 8:14 PM GMT
    fastprof said
    minox said.

    It's not unlike meteo forcast : it's getting better and better, yet it will never be possible to forcast if it will rain or not on your house in one year.



    Oh, I can do that. icon_razz.gif

    Well, almost just kidding.

    Thanks for your input...you obviously are very fit and know what you are talking about.


    Thank you very much ;-)

    Side note about the barefoot running :

    What the authors got right is that using sport shoes allow you to run in a way that will damage your feet/ankle/knees otherwise.
    When you learn your 'strike form' improperly, after some years, all your muscular system is adjusted for it, difficult to change.
    But if you can have a correct stride bare foot, you will do even better with proper shoes, and it will also be safer.

    Even top long distance runner often show a incorrect running form. Why ? because it has little impact on performance when compared to cardioascular system and muscular fiber types. For sprinter, it's the opposite, bad form don't allow you to be any good.

    I used to correct bad running form by having guys run a bit with a peeble in the shoes, just under the heel.
    This way, they had 'feed back' about putting to much body weight on hell when the foot impact the ground.
    Better form allow you to use calves as an shock absorber, with some of the enrgy stored in muscle elasticity and restored. It mean less enrgy for the same strike, but it takes some year of muscular education to have it working, it's not just a form, it need calve muscle education and training to be efficient.

    I manager to triple jump bare foot, just to improve the quality of my ground contact. But I would never have dared to jump barefoot when competing.

    PS : sorry for spelling, keyboard mistakes and approximative vocabulary