Archive for June, 2008
This post is republished — and was one of the most popular articles — from a now-defunct blog I used to maintain.
It’s always a bit sad to retire a pair of running shoes, but alas, the time has come to move my Salomon XA Pro 3D trail shoes from my “running shoe” bin to my “general gym shoe” bin, also known as the place where running shoes go to die.
These shoes were my one of my first “real” pair of trail shoes, and after logging near 600+ miles in them on various dirt trails, muddy paths, and through streams in the hills of Mt. Diablo State Park, the Marin Headlands, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I want to offer a review of the Salomon XA Pro 3D. (So many shoe reviews on other websites and in magazines talk about the way the shoe feels out of the box or after running a dozen or so miles in them… Hopefully I can provide some further insight after exhausting the life of these shoes.)
First, the pros: Great looking shoe! To be honest, I bought them partly because of their aesthetic appeal and aggressive look. The gray on black color scheme, with a subtle multicolored label striping the tongue, reminds me of a well-polished, shiny black Dodge Viper resting quietly, but confidently, among a row of candy apple red and cobalt blue sport cars. These shoes do not a silly gimmick (Reebok Pump, anyone?) or an obnoxious color scheme to turn heads. Somehow, the understated yet sporty shoe looks fast and light just sitting in a box. It called to me. (Score one point for the marketing folks at Salomon.)
More pros: The traction is awesome and allowed me to confidently navigate the most technical terrain, slippery slopes, and slick logs and rocks.
I like the way this light shoe hugs the foot. It wraps the heel while providing enough room in the toe-box. The firm rubber toe-stop is great for preventing stubbed-toes on gnarly root and boulder strewn singletrack. It rises a bit towards the back, fitting somewhere between a low-top racing flat and a high-top hiking boot, providing just enough protection and flexibility in the ankle are
I also like the laceless, pull-tight “lacing” mechanism. I think Salomon uses some type of Kevlar type material for this and it is a neat design that provides an as-snug or as-loose fit as you want along the top of the foot. One never has to worry about a shoelace coming undone.
(One of my training buddies mentioned a potential drawback with this “laceless” system: If, for whatever reason, your “lace” gets stuck on the twig of a downed branch while you are running downhill, you are going to take a pretty painful fall: a regular shoelace would untie or snap, but these “laces” are bulletproof. This never happened to me, but I suppose it is something to note. Also, the lacing system is such that you cannot tie your car key to it, so be sure to have a little key pocket in your running shorts if you use these shoes.)
As much as I love these shoes, they have a limit to what they can handle. Invariably, whenever I got to the 12th-14th mile of a run, my forefoot felt bruised, sometimes painfully so. The sole of the XA Pro is pretty soft. The shoe’s flexibility makes it light, responsive, and fast, but also a poor choice for long-distance trail running. The sole is entirely too squishy.
A surprisingly large number of my friends and fellow trail runners have said they experienced similar problems with the Salomon XA Pro 3D and sent them into early running shoe retirement, opting instead to try other brands and models.
Bottom line: Would I buy another pair? Definitely.
These are great shoes for short-course trail running — fast and light with the perfect blend of technology and function. I have run a number of trail races, from 3 to 16 miles, and training runs up to 30 miles in my Salomon’s… They are wonderful until mile 12 or so, at which point I sometimes switch to another shoe (Asics GT-2120 trail shoes, which I will experiment with as my primary trail shoe for the next few months).
If heading into rocky trails or runs of more than 12 miles, however, I would suggest you try something with a stuiffer sole.
The retail price on these shoes are north of $100, but there are many places online or at the SportsBasement in San Francisco where you can get them for around $80. For that price, maybe try a pair and hit some short trails. They make a great light-weight and incredibly comfortable hiking shoe, as well.
RIP, Salomon XA Pro 3D.
“Oh, that is so wonderful! I wish I could do something like that. But… you know.”
“You are such a good person!”
“Those that can’t do, teach.”
“I always wanted to be a teacher. But I also want a certain amount of financial security as I raise my family and build my home.”
Public perception of public school teachers is streaked with an odd mix of admiration, pity, patronization, and guilt. Some people think that those that enter the teaching profession are missionaries or martyrs, sacrificing their own financial self-interest for the sake of others. (Some teachers are guilty of believing this, too.) And because everyone has sat at a desk in a classroom managed by a teacher in a school, a lot of us think we know what it’s like to work in education and (wrongly!) believe we know what it’s like to be a teacher.
Does the salary of a public school teacher contribute to this conception of life as a professional educator? In our society, the esteem of certain jobs is positively correlated with the earnings-potential of that profession.
Would more of the most ambitious and accomplished among us seek a career in teaching if the compensation package was competitive with the salaries offered in the fields of law, medicine, and business?
Would a higher salary attract better qualified, able, and effective teachers?
The Equity Project (TEP) Charter School in New York City thinks that the answer to these three questions is, Yes! And they are doing something about it.
Starting salary for public school teachers at TEP: $125,000 a year, with bonuses approaching another $25,000.
The TEP philosophy is based on research that reveals,”Teacher quality is the most important school-based factor in the academic success of students, particularly those from low-income families.” [Source: Dan Goldhaber and Emily Anthony, “Teacher Quality and Student Achievement,” ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, Urban Diversity Series No. 115, May 2003: 1]
And their premise is that you have to pay to get good people. So pay they do.
It’s a radical — even revolutionary — experiment, one that I am eager from which to learn the results.
When I look back on my own student life, it was never the content, the format, the curriculum, nor class size that determined how much I engaged with my peers and the material. It was the teacher!
Some of my most important learned lessons — some of my best “life” classes — did not take place in the classroom at all, but in conversations that unraveled over the dinner table, while watching a baseball game, on a road trip, in a dorm room, on the phone, and via email. I am fortunate to be surrounded by friends, family members, and peers who are passionate about discovering and communicating ideas. Sometimes I ask them point blank, because it would be a magical, wonderful site, if they would ever teach. Most say they would like to, used to want to, will when they retire… When the concept of money didn’t matter, when they can dream that money doesn’t matter, when money won’t matter. Then they will teach.
Or, offers The Equity Project Charter School, you can teach now. Because right now, money does matter.
To learn more about the philosophy of TEP and their teacher recruitment efforts, peruse the The Equity Project website.
I read somewhere that John Elway and Jay Leno were philosophy majors. But what if you’re can’t throw a football or successfully tell a funny joke? Those deep- and critical thinking skills have to be pretty valuable to a potential employer… Right?
Source: The NYT’s Freakonomics blog.
So. Much. Good. Stuff.
*** “Can We Play?,” by Dr. David Elkind and published on the SharpBrains blog, is a summary of the “research [that] confirms the value of play.” It makes for an interesting, science-rooted companion to a book that deserves a deep and thorough re-read every year, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, by Thomist philosopher and Christian theologian Josef Pieper, who makes a compelling case that purposeless activity is the most purposeful activity that we can and should engage in!
*** What is the best way to boost cognitive functioning? By exercising the body or by exercising the mind? What about the use of nutrition supplements and the practice of meditation? Jeremy at PsyBlog explores these questions in, Brain Health: Physical or Mental Exercise?, also republished on the SharpBrains blog. (If you regularly peruse only one or two sites about the brain sciences, SharpBrains is the best.)
*** Light reading: Boris Johnson, the recently-elected Mayor of London, analogizes bike riding with and without a helmet to the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” sharp elbow game of politics in Get a bike helmet to get ahead – or maybe not, an opinion piece in Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
*** To listen to: NPR’s Talk of the Nation has an audio archive of today’s discussion with Alan Schwartz of the NYT about his front-page profile of Kendall Bailey, a “6-foot-6-inch 19 year-old” diagnosed with cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and autism, but who also happens to be one the fastest disabled swimmers in the world. Kendall is so fast that he is favored to win gold, if not set a world record in the breastroke, at this summer’s 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. That is, if he is allowed to compete. Officials of the event have been slow to confirm whether Kendall, because of his intellectual and mental handicaps, would be allowed to compete alongside physically disabled athletes. The politics of sport and the heart of a champion. Read Schwartz’s article here.
*** Another provocative read: This story about how the government of Japan is responding to its own national obesity epidemic (it seems everyone, everywhere — not just those of us in the U.S. — is getting fatter) by imposing limits to the size of its citizens’ bellies. (!) If you are a male, it is against the law for your waist to exceed 33.5 inches; for women, the government says your waist can be no bigger than 35.4 inches. If you eat too much and are too plump around the mid-section, you can be fined and forced to attend health education courses. Too much government intervention, or a necessary public policy?
Neurobiologist Maninder Kahlon described how the brain works and how biology can result in the formation of biased notions. Here is your workbook today: [Click here* to] take the Stroop test. This involves forcing one’s brain to use its power of observation rather than relying on habits of perception. It’s an astounding experiment that demonstrates only a fraction of what humans are up against when they try to change preconceived notions.
*Note, the link in the above excerpt requires you to have Shockwave software downloaded on your computer to take the Stroop test. If you do not have the Shockwave plug-in, PBS’s awesome scientific program, Nova, has a “non-Shockwave demonstration of the Stroop effect” available here.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published an interesting article in today’s journal that examines the physical structure of brains in heterosexual and homosexual study participants.
The best summary of the article, PET and MRI show differences in cerebral asymmetry and functional connectivity between homo- and heterosexual subjects, authored by lead researchers Ivanka Savic and Per Linstrom of the Stockholm Brain Institute in Sweden, is provided by Richard Monastersky on the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s News Blog:
Is There a Gay Brain? Imagine Study Finds Anatomical Clues
[Neuroscience researchers] found that the brains of homosexual men and heterosexual women were more symmetrical than the brains of heterosexual men and homosexual women. A similar difference emerged when the researchers looked in particular at the amygdala, a brain region associated with emotional reactions. Heterosexual women and homosexual men had more connections between their right and left amygdala and more connections with other brain regions than did homosexual women and heterosexual men.
Scientists have spent decades looking for brain differences between homosexual and heterosexual people and since the early 1990s have been finding anatomical distinctions in regions associated with sexual behavior. The new study suggests broader brain differences between homosexual and heterosexual men and women, even in regions not linked to sexual attraction.
The BBC article where I first read of this study can be found here.
In 2005, Dr. Savic was the lead researcher on another neuroscientific investigation about the “gay brain.” The title of that article, also published by PNAS, is Brain response to putative phermones in homosexual men.
In this 2005 study, it was discovered — as the title of the article says — that “the brains of homosexual men respond more like those of women when reacting to a chemical derived from the male sex hormone.” [Source]
These two studies lend evidence to the debate over whether sexual orientation is a biologically-determined trait.
“My Amygdala, My Self,” by Jeffrey Goldberg, is a fun and fascinating article in this summer’s Ideas Issue of The Atlantic:
Intrigued (and alarmed) by the new science of “neuromarketing,” our correspondent peers into his own brain via an MRI machine and learns what he really thinks about Jimmy Carter, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bruce Springsteen, and Eddie Falco.
Be sure to give yourself 20 minutes to read “No Finish Line” by Alexander Wolff, a Sports Illustrated profile of former marathon world-record holder Alberto Salazar. It’s a fascinating story about a great athlete who, after suffering a heart attack, is forced to come to grips with the fact that “life is the only long run that really matters.”
The opening paragraph paints a vivid picture about the The Agony of Victory:
Death is one of those things Alberto Salazar used to run into. He’d finish a race and all but perish, as likely from fire as from ice. In 1978, at the end of the 7.1-mile Falmouth (Mass.) Road Race, he was read the last rites after collapsing with a body temperature of 108°. After he won the 1982 Boston Marathon, paramedics had to give him six liters of saline solution in an IV drip when his temperature dropped to 88°.
When done reading the SI article, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s blog post about Kenyan runners. Gladwell, citing Salazar’s observations about and experiences with the sport of running, makes a case for “put[ting] the genetic argument about Kenyan running dominance to rest.”
The genetic versus cultural debate does not die, however, as evidence by the string of lively, heated, passionate responses in the comments section of Gladwell’s blog.
If you bump into Ultramarathonman Dean Karnazes at your local Whole Foods, I bet it won’t be in the supplement and food bar aisle…
In “Nutri-lize This,” National Geographic Adventure magazine reports that “the fittest man in the world,” and many more elite and endurance athletes, “are questioning the benefits of vitamins and supplements, opting [instead] for all natural [foods].”
As reporter Karen Asp summarizes:
Packaged powder may goose you during a hard run or ride, but eating au naturel, it seems, can help separate the winners from the also-rans. Suzanne Girads Eberle, a sports dietitian and authors of the highly regarded handbook, Endurance Sports Nutrition, says “Vitamins and minerals don’t give us energy. That comes from carbs, proteins, and fats in healthy foods.”
So what to eat? “Some dietary standouts” include low-fat milk, edamame, peanut butter, lentils, albacore tuna, and lean red meat.
Slow carbs to run fast… Pass me some muscat melon!
Additional reading: Real Thought for Food for Long Workouts by Gina Kolata compares the nutritional science market of recovery products to the benefits of eating real food after engaging in vigorous exercise.
Worth a read: Our friends in the north, a thought-provoking article in the Economist that explores the policies and philosophies that make the education system in Finland “the best in the world.”
Finnish schools are compared to schools in Sweden and it’s interesting to read about the successes and struggles of a national voucher model, market-based school systems, personalized curricula, segregated versus mainstream special education policies, and differing beliefs about the purpose of a public education system.
But of most interest to me, and the reason Finnish schools are so good: Teacher recruitment and quality of instruction. As noted by a professor of pedagogy at Helsinki’s teacher-training facility, “The root of the Finnish education system’s success is its extraordinary ability to attract the very best young people into teaching: Only around 10% of applicants are accepted for teacher training.”
At the National Board of Education, I ask Irmeli Halinen what other countries should learn from Finland. The most important lesson, she says, is to develop excellent initial training for teachers. Second, start education late and gently—Finnish children are seven before they start formal school. And she offers a third lesson: “We don’t waste energy or money or time on inspections or national testing.”
The ministry of education is “obsessed” with maintaining and improving the status of educators as an elite and respected group in Finnish society. Says its minster, ”We will do anything possible to keep the profession attractive.”
I’d love to hear the same commitment from U.S. representatives, legislators, and policy makers. But even if we increased teacher recruitment and retention efforts, drawing teachers and administrators from a select pool of the smartest and highest-achieving college graduates, how much more would students learn? Teacher quality, while a necessary (and even if the most important) input for a public school, is just one piece of the dynamic and complicated education puzzle. Students and their families have to buy into and believe in the system… They have to believe that education will empower them to achieve their own best promises.
Do our schools help to lift-up the children of low-income families? It’s a complicated question that the concept of “inter-generational income elasticity” makes a bit more messy. This is “the technical term for the correlation between people’s income and that of their parents.”
In the United States, parental income is a major influence on earning. It is difficult for children to move among — especially up — economic classes. In Finland, inter-generational income elasticity is low, meaning, “Finns trust teachers and schools… and for a reason.” A strong education system makes economic ladder climbing easy. “What Finnish schools do is genuinely effective.”
How is this possible? High standards of success from all students:
“Between-student” variation in Finland is extremely low, meaning a narrow gap between the scores of the most able and least able groups. This trick is easy to pull off if standards are uniformly low, but Finland’s average is the world’s highest, meaning it does almost unbelievably well by its weakest students.
How are high standards achieved? Not by mandated national or state testing. But by getting the best and brightest people to work in education.
Finland’s secret is simple: its teachers are so highly regarded that the very best young people compete for this coveted job. The successful few study for at least five years and are actually taught how to teach (you would be surprised how rare this is on teacher-training courses). And then, once they start work, their students pay attention and work hard (when I asked Finns whether there were some families who despised education and resented schools, they seemed puzzled by the question).
I have seen what works. But I don’t know how my country—where anti-intellectualism is rife, and where, sadly, all too often those who can’t do, teach—could replicate it.
Hat tip to MH for the link.
Some of the better recent resources related to the brain sciences…
- From the Society for Neuroscience, a free downloadable “64-page primer on the brain and nervous system.”
- The TImes of London, voted the best news website of the year, has a great interactive gallery of brain training resources and puzzles at Surprise Yourself.
- Sharon Begley’s article for Newsweek, The Lotus and the Synapse, makes accessible recent research that shows how compassion mediation can actually change the structure of the brain. The paper that inspired Begley’s article, Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise, was published in the journal Public Library of Science One (PLoS ONE). A quick overview of the research project and its findings is provided by the University of Wisconsin.
- As part of its Author Speaker Series, the fantastic people over at SharpBrains (my favorite resource for brain science news and information) invited John Medina, biologist and author of the new book Brain Rules, to provide a “good, non-technical, summary of the implications of recent brain science in our daily lives.” Check out the post at Brain Rules: science and practice.
I’m listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation right now and find myself laughing — and cringing — as people call-in to share their gym pet-peeves and horror stories. The guest is Tina Peng, author of Newsweek‘s “Gym Sins,” in which “fitness club memberships dish about their members’ most obnoxious habits.” Among my favorite gym sins:
- A woman who was caught toasting bread and melting cheese for a grilled cheese sandwich in a sauna. She claimed she had done this dozens of times and didn’t understand why cooking — in the gym’s sauna! — would be offensive;
- The two guys who recently joined a gym and decided to weigh themselves. Naked. The only problem? The scale was outside the locker room and located in the public hallway; and
- The people who stick hairdryers in their dirty, sweaty shoes to dry their sneakers, and those that use hairdryers to, um… well, dry their general mid-sections.
Chocolate milk is just about the best thing an endurance athlete can drink after a hard workout.
Forget the fancy packaging and multi-syllabic scientific terms that are used to describe the nutrition benefits of expensive powders, gels, and other liquid concoctions found at General Nutrition Stores. Muscle Milk and its similar-marketed cousins of the “endurance fuel” family have nothing on moo milk and Hershey’s syrup. Seriously.
With the increasing demand and use of protein and carbohydrate drinks aimed at the hard-core athlete, the New York Times published comments from an un-scientific taste and performance test of leading post-activity sports drinks designed to optimize recovery. In “Gear Test: How About a Spin and Tonic?“, Gatorade Protein Recovery Shake, Met-Rx RTD, EAS Myoplex Read-to-Drink, Powerbar Recovery, and Cytopsorts Recovery Drink were sampled.
I could not help but notice how expensive all these drinks were. And the image of chugging any of these drinks after a workout brought to mind a picture of a mechanic topping-off the fluids in a race car after a hard drive. It seems as if the marketing of these products appeal to an idea in our head of our bodies as machines that need to be re-fueled with fancy chains of lab-designed amino acids, carbs, and proteins.
Then I remembered of hearing an anecdote that Michael Phelps drinks Carnation Instant Breakfast between races. For Michael Jordan, “It’s gotta’ be the shoes!” For this Michael, maybe, “It’s gotta be the milk!”
In 2006, the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism published a study conducted at Indiana University that found:
Chocolate milk contains an optimal carbohydrate to protein ratio, which is critical for helping refuel tired muscles after strenuous exercise and can enable athletes to exercise at a high intensity during subsequent workouts. It is a strong alternative to other commercial sports drinks in helping athletes recover from strenuous, energy-depleting exercise. (Source.)
How effective? Co-author Joel Stager says, “Chocolate milk was nearly twice as effective than the synthetic products [such as those taste-tested by the NYT] as a recovery product.” (Source.)
“The researchers found that cyclists who drank chocolate milk during the rest period were able to bike nearly twice as long before reaching exhaustion than those who consumed the carbohydrate replacement drink.” (Source.)
Bonus: “And the athletes liked the taste a lot better.”
Double bonus: Chocolate milk is relatively inexpensive, especially when compared to the $3-4 cost of a single-serving of Muscle Milk.
What is so great about chocolate milk? And what about that sugar? That can’t be good for you, can it? Well…
Chocolate milk has the ideal ratio of carbohydrates to proteins — 3 or 4 grams of carbs to 1 gram of protein — for optimal post-exercise recovery. Regular milk does not have this same ratio.
It’s not just the ratio of carbohydrates to proteins that makes a difference. There seems to be something special about milk itself that cannot be replicated in the lab. “Endurox, which has the same carb-to-protein ratio as chocolate milk, fared poorly” in the study.
What gives? One researcher supposes that “It may have to do with the different composition of the sugars in the milk. The sugars in the milk may be better absorbed in the gut than those in the Endurox.” (Source.)
Whatever the reason, Mother Nature and Hershey’s know what’s best. Pass me some milk and chocolate syrup!
Further reading: Swallow This by Gretchen Reynolds discusses the trends and science of post-workout recovery nutrition.
In Chip Brown’s wonderful portrait about Tiger Woods, It’s Good to Be Immortal, the New York Times journalist makes reference to a story in which Michael Jordan, a good friend of Woods, said he (Jordan) was “driven to win because somebody might be watching for the first time.”
What motivates Tiger?, Brown wanted to know. Woods said, “I don’t see how you can live with yourself not trying and not giving your best. I don’t see how you can go home and say, ‘I didn’t give it my best.’ People do that. I don’t know how they do that. That to me is unacceptable.”
If pride in a job well-done is not enough to help you achieve peak physical performance, Men’s Health magazine, home to “tons of useful stuff,” offers 20 Ways to Stick to Your Workout. Some of the tips are Duh!, such as “Don’t do what you hate.”
Some, no matter how “motivating,” feed off of fear and insecurity, including “Ask your wife/partner make a list of your most displeasing physical characteristic… Make the most-hated body part your workout focus for 4 weeks, then repeat the quiz for more motivation.”
A couple are really useful, even if an echo of what you’ve read on various message boards, including competing/racing (not just training) and registering for an event that is a few states away. Paying — now! — for the registration fees, hotel rooms, airplane tickets, and car rental will certainly be an incentive to train. (Sometimes the best motivation affects the pocketbook.)
But my favorite tip, included maybe half in jest but certainly a unique and effective technique, is number 20 on the list: Blackmail yourself.
Take a picture of yourself shirtless, holding a sign that shows your e-mail address. Then e-mail it to a trusted but sadistic friend, with the following instructions: “If I don’t send you a new picture that shows serious improvement in 12 weeks, post this photo at hotornot.com and send the link to the addresses listed below….” (Include as many e-mail addresses — especially of female acquaintances — as possible.) “It’s nasty, but extremely effective,” says [fitness trainer] Alwyn Cosgrove.
Hey, whatever works.
In the Mind Matters section of Newsweek’s online health section, Wray Herbert authored an interesting article that introduces executive function (EF) “an emerging concept in student assessment and could eventually displace traditional measures of ability and achievement.”
In EF: The School Skill That Matter More than IQ, Herbert writes:
EF comprises not only effortful control and cognitive focus but also working memory and mental flexibility—the ability to adjust to change, to think outside the box. These are the uniquely human skills that, taken together, allow us keep our more impulsive and distractible brain in check. New research shows that EF, more than IQ, leads to success in basic academics like arithmetic and grammar. It also suggests that we can pump up these EF skills with regular exercise, just as we do with muscles.
Lynn Meltzer is the editor of Executive Function in Education: From Theory to Practice, a compilation of rich essays that explores the science of, and curriculum for implementing, high-order thinking.