Category Archives: veganism

“How Do You Run in Those?”

I’ve run the Jerome Hill Climb race many times, beginning in 1988, about one year after moving to Arizona. It’s a point-to-point uphill race on Labor Day weekend that starts in the small town of Jerome at an elevation of just under 5,000 feet (1,500 meters), then climbs approximately 1,100 feet (335 meters) along 4.5 miles (7.2 kilometers) of mostly little-used unpaved roads to the finish. It’s a very scenic course with splendid views of valleys and mountain peaks, and Jerome—originally founded to support copper mining operations and now mostly populated with artists and entrepreneurs and their employees who cater to tourists—has lots of old and weathered buildings with interesting histories lining narrow, twisting, and hilly streets.

2015 Jerome Hill Climb T-shirt.

2015 Jerome Hill Climb T-shirt.

This past weekend, I ran the Jerome Hill Climb again for the first time in 11 years. My friend Sandra was also entered in the race. We talked briefly minutes before the start when she asked me why after all those years I decided to run it again. I didn’t have a good answer at the time, but I thought about her question later that day and came up with two explanations.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate the value of experiences over material things. Jerome is quite an experience with its challenging hills and altitude, and unique scenery, making it a refreshing change from my usual running locations in the Phoenix area.

And after 11 years things have changed quite a bit with my running. When I signed up for the 2015 race I was curious how it would feel running a very hilly, unpaved course in my unsupportive minimalist sandals using a different running form. But I was also a little wary of the event, not sure how sore I might be the day after, or of my memory of how rough the terrain was. And I hadn’t been doing any hill training to speak of.

Happily, my concerns proved to be unfounded. While as expected I walked two sections of the steepest grades, just as I had every other time I’ve run the race, I felt good. My minimalist sandals and improved running form worked great, and I managed to finish first in my age group out of 13 people!

These are the Xero Shoes 6 mm minimalist sandals I ran the race in.

These are the Xero Shoes 6 mm minimalist sandals I ran the race in.

Grinding up the steep grades with a pronounced forward lean at the ankles resulting in a smaller than usual angle between my feet and my tibias, plus the effects of running back down the hill to my car after the race, I thought surely I would be sore the following day. But I have excellent mobility and strength in my ankles and feet—much more so than 11 years ago when I ran with orthotics and motion control shoes. Honestly, except for the first minute walking around the house after getting out of bed, I wasn’t sore the next day.

It wasn’t the first time I was certain I’d be sore the next day from doing something out of the ordinary with my body, but was not. I’ve learned from experience that I’m not that prone to soreness. I suspect being a vegan plays a role, as plant-based diets are known to reduce the inflammatory response.

The two things about the run I found most significant though was the presence of a barefoot runner, and a question from another runner regarding my sandals.

Among the approximately 255 entrants was a guy in bare feet. I was impressed because the running surfaces were way too rough for me to consider running barefoot. He had a pair of Vibram FiveFingers tucked into the waistband of his shorts, but he was still barefoot when I ran past him just before the first mile marker. Seeing that made me even more confident about my plan to run barefoot in the upcoming Phoenix 10K which traverses city streets with relatively smooth pavement.

When standing around awaiting the start of the race, I noticed that a group of girls were looking curiously at my minimalist sandals. Each of them wore conventional running shoes in a variety of bright colors. They had the typical cushioned soles with exaggerated thicknesses at the heel.

“How do you run in those?” one of them asked me.

I explained how I landed on my forefoot, under my hips, lowered the back of my foot until the heel gently touched, and then quickly lifted the foot behind me. I also added that the sandals, because they provided no significant support, allowed my feet and ankles to strengthen.

The irony of her question quickly occurred to me. So indoctrinated are most of us in the idea that conventional running shoes are a prerequisite to running, minimalism throws us a confusing curveball. It would have made more sense if instead I had asked her how she manages to run in conventional running shoes. But I already knew the answer to that question, because for decades I ran in such shoes. Getting out of them was a necessary step in improving my form, becoming stronger, and having more fun.

My Vegan Breakfast

Ever since my high school days I’ve eaten a fairly substantial breakfast high in complex carbohydrates. This morning’s breakfast, following an eight-mile run, was fairly typical. It consisted of a large bowl of oatmeal topped with flaxseed meal, several servings of fruit, a slice of 100% whole grain toast with extra virgin olive oil and salt, and a glass of soymilk. I like to prepare the oatmeal in the microwave using old-fashioned rolled oats, plenty of water, and salt to taste. I also add a small amount of oat bran to give the oatmeal a creamier consistency. Using a coffee grinder, I make the flaxseed meal from whole flaxseeds, preparing enough to last me for a couple weeks, then storing it in the freezer.

My Vegan Breakfast

Nutritionally, the meal provides ample soluble and insoluble fiber, essential amino acids, healthy fats including omega-3 fatty acids, an array of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, including calcium from the flaxseed meal and fortified soymilk. The meal is rich in potassium, which is a mineral many people don’t get enough of. If I had taken this photo two years ago, it would have included a glass of orange juice. Since then I’ve mostly moved away from juice, preferring to eat more whole fruits instead.

“The meal is rich in potassium, which is a mineral many people don’t get enough of.”

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an inherently conservative professional organization previously known as the American Dietetic Association, has stated in a position paper: “… appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”

While I view veganism as a moral and political commitment necessary for living in accordance with the simple principle of not imposing unnecessary pain, suffering, and death on animals, I also appreciate the many health, athletic performance, and ecological benefits of eating a diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and mushrooms.

“… I view veganism as a moral and political commitment necessary for living in accordance with the simple principle of not imposing unnecessary pain, suffering, and death on animals …”

A wealth of studies show lower rates of major diseases in vegans compared to subjects who eat animals. Cancers, strokes, heart disease, and inflammation have all been linked to diets high in meat and other animal products. I remain free of the frequent aches and pains, expanding waistlines, arthritis, rising blood pressure, and unhealthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels, so many people my age are dealing with.

Much of my sustained energy level and quick post-workout recovery times, I attribute to my diet. It’s rich in unprocessed starches and other digestible carbohydrates that are easily converted into the liver and muscle glycogen that helps fuel my running and other daily physical activities.

Lastly, animal agriculture is devastating to the environment. Bringing animal-based foods to market requires far more water, and results in far more greenhouse gas emissions and pollution of our waterways, compared to the production of equivalent quantities of plant-based foods.


Running in Sandals

Earlier this month elite ultramarathoner and vegan Scott Jurek made an appearance at Tortoise and Hare Sports in Glendale, Arizona as part of a promotional tour for his book Eat and Run. The evening began with a 5K run through the flat, mostly residential neighborhood north of the store.

I had recently started running in a pair of 6mm thick Xero Shoes sandals. Xero Shoes are a vegan-friendly modern version of the huarache sandals that the Tarahumara Indians of northwestern Mexico have been running in for thousands of years over long distances on rugged mountain trails. Part of their appeal for me is their obvious simplicity. Consisting of a very durable one-piece molded rubber sole and a single nylon/polypropylene lace, they couldn’t be more minimal. They can be purchased as a do-it-yourself kit (which is what I chose) that requires that you punch the hole between the first and second toes where the lace is anchored, and then install and tie the lace in your preferred style. While the soles (available in either 4mm or 6mm thicknesses) come in about a dozen different pre-molded sizes to fit your foot length, it may be necessary trim some excess area from the front and sides.  But if you like, for a few dollars more the Xero Shoes people will do all that work for you, starting with a simple tracing of your feet that you can fax or mail to them.

It took some experimenting with different tying styles and lace tensions before they were snug and comfortable, but by the book signing event I had figured everything out and was ready to run in them. The non-competitive run started out at an easy pace. Jurek reminded us before we started that it wasn’t a race, then joked that “if you ever wanted to beat Scott Jurek, this would be your chance.” However, some of us at the front were itching to go faster, and when someone blew past us at the halfway point and opened up a big lead, we promptly followed. That proved to be a good test of my Xero Shoes sandals, which functioned superbly through the whole distance at different paces.

Andy, who is one of my few friends who are both vegans and runners, also attended the Jurek event. She shot this short video of me in the parking lot in which I show how the sandals appear with the tying style I came up with, and then demonstrate how I run with them. I plan on making another video in the near future, showing step-by-step how I tied them.

Currently I’ve run up to 8 miles (13 km) at a time in these sandals. I don’t use them that much for walking (I actually prefer something a bit thicker with a little cushioning for walking), and they would not be my first choice for track workouts or faster and shorter races, but for the ordinary long distance running that comprises the bulk of my training, they are already my favorite choice of footwear. The very minimal design allows the toes to splay out fully, and does not otherwise restrict the natural function of the foot.

I can see Xero Shoes sales eventually overtaking Vibram FiveFingers, at least in the running category. Not only is the running experience better, but also the cost is only one-forth to one-third that of a typical pair of FiveFingers. The price advantage is even greater when factoring in their superior durability. I’m clearly excited about this product and believe it is something that the world needs to find out about.

©2013 Kenneth Hopes