A Churl-Free Day of Posting, Part #1

Having struck a sour tone these past few days, it will be all upbeat, all the time, with posts today. That is to say, no politics, public finance, FAA or TSA screwups, Chinese unrest or high-speed train updates, or anything else of that depressing sort.

Instead, let's start with: running!

About a year ago, I was moaning that many decades of distance running had left me with knees and joints that all felt fine but with an increasingly sore, swollen, and unsightly right Achilles tendon. The more I read about "tendinosis," the more it seemed like balancing the federal budget a depressing future reality of life. And if that turned out to be the reality, I would be consigned to a grim (from my POV) future of swimming, "the erg," the elliptical, and similar drudgery.

Therefore when I heard rumors of salvation, in the form of "barefoot" running and the oddball Vibram finger-shoes, I naturally rushed to embrace this hope. That's what I depicted last year, in a trick photo of me with one of my sons just after we'd bought a matching set of Vibram FiveFinger footwear:

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A year's worth of use later, here's how one of the Vibram shoes now looks. The shot below corresponds to the foot-and-shoe second from left in the shot above. (And thanks for asking: the red mark on the big toe isn't blood. I once caught my toe on a track with a red rubbery surface. I haven't washed the red off because it adds that tough-guy look.)


The main happy news from my point of view is: I can now run again, three or four miles at a time, two or three times a week, at a reasonable pace and with the limiting factors being heat, cold, fatigue, decrepitude, and essentially anything other than foot or Achilles pain.

At some point I may do a more complete debugging and description of the experience. Here are some "key take-aways," as they say in the tech world:

 * Part of the miracle cure: taking a three- month break from running altogether, because it was the dead of winter and because I was back in China (and in polluted air) again.

 * Another part of the cure: a session last year with Dr. Stephen Pribut in DC, who prescribed small heel lifts; cautioned that most stretching exercises did as much harm as good; and mainly recommended that I figure out a style of running that didn't hurt so much. This is the philosophy of common-sense doctoring I remember from my own father: "Doctor, it hurts when I do such and such." "Well, try not to do such and such."

* The new running style: shorter strides at a higher rate, with a stance that is more upright than leaning-forward. Overall it feels a little slower and probably is -- but hey, it's a lot faster than not being able to do it. While brings us to

* The barefoot shoes. I don't want to enter the religious wars over this footwear and am not part of the barefoot cult. I know that parts of the Army have outlawed Vibrams, and that Keith Olbermann blames them for his broken foot-bones. They may not be right for anyone else. I don't care. For me, it has worked very well to alternate wearing them and using "real" shoes -- usually two sessions a week with Vibrams, then one with my normal shoes. The alternation, I theorize, avoids too much strain from sticking with one approach or the other. I think I find the Vibrams appealing because, as I explained earlier, they encourage the "forefoot rather than heel" style of running that for me had been natural since days of yore.

And one more tip: through my explorations, I got in touch with an editor for Runner's World named Mark Remy. He has a very funny but also instructive book about the running life called The Runner's Rule Book. Worth checking out. And certainly more uplifting than budget news.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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