Daniel Lieberman: The Story Of The Human body: Evolution, Health, and Disease

If you have ever read ‘Born To Run‘ you will no doubt already have heard of Harvard Professor, Daniel Lieberman. His book, ‘The Story Of The Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease‘ was released today.

“In his latest book, Lieberman continues to persist in unlocking our evolutionary history and explore the clues of our past to gain a greater understanding of our current physical, mental and social form. A master in his field, Lieberman uses his knowledge and research to help us understand why we get sick, and make you more aware of healthy and harmful behaviours.”

“Story of the Human Body explores how the way we use our bodies is all wrong. From an evolutionary perspective, if normal is defined as what most people have done for millions of years, then it’s normal to walk and run 9 -15 kilometers a day to hunt and gather fresh food which is high in fibre, low in sugar, and barely processed. It’s also normal to spend much of your time nursing, napping, making stone tools, and gossiping with a small band of people.

Our 21st-century lifestyles, argues Dan Lieberman, are out of synch with our stone-age bodies. Never have we been so healthy and long-lived – but never, too, have we been so prone to a slew of problems that were, until recently, rare or unknown, from asthma, to diabetes, to – scariest of all – overpopulation.

Story of the Human Body asks how our bodies got to be the way they are, and considers how that evolutionary history – both ancient and recent – can help us evaluate how we use our bodies. How is the present-day state of the human body related to the past? And what is the human body’s future?

Daniel Lieberman is the Chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard and a leader in the field. He has written nearly 100 articles, many appearing in the journals Nature and Science, and his cover story on barefoot running in Nature was picked up by major media the world over. His research and discoveries have been highlighted in newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Discover, and National Geographic.”

An interview by Ian Tucker from The Observer, dated Sunday 22nd September 2013 provides more insight into the content of the book:

The Scottish Barefoot Run

The second Scottish Barefoot Run and Conference took place on Saturday 14th September 2013. The information and video below offer a short taster of what happened on the day.

“The second annual National Conference and run for the barefooters and natural runners. This years event was very well attended with Barefoot Ted from Chris MacDougall’s Book ‘Born To Run’ in attendance, all the way from Seattle. Joe Warne research scientist mid way through PHD at Dublin University on Sports Physiology but doing research into barefoot running adaptation relativities. Jae Gruenke from New York’s Balanced Runner speaking on the Fieldenkrais method which is very interesting. This movie only shows the main events and not the full presentations which were exemplary.”

The Scottish Barefoot Run & Conference 2013 from BarefootworksTV Channel on Vimeo.

Proprioception – Making Sense Of Barefoot Running

Anyone with an interest in minimalist/barefoot running will likely have heard of Harvard University Professor Dan Lieberman and Chris McDougall, Author of Born to Run. However, you may not have heard of Lee Saxby.

Here’s what Dan Lieberman and Chris McDougall have to say about Lee:

“I’ve never seen anyone better able to diagnose and correct a runner’s form, and he has that ability — special to good coaches — to translate his advice into words that make sense and which you can follow.” (Dan Lieberman)

“The first time I saw Lee Saxby was the last time I ever had a running injury.” (Chris McDougall)

With comments like these, you know that you should take note of what the author has to say and, it just so happens, you can have a read of exactly what Lee does have to say thanks to ‘Proprioception – Making Sense Of Barefoot Running’ a completely free 32 page eBook introduction to minimalist running.

“Lee Saxby is at the forefront of applied barefoot science. He has been coaching movement for 20 years and has spent the last 10 years coaching barefoot technique to help runners overcome injury and increase performance. The coaching drills he uses are based on a deep understanding of the biomechanics of movement and his extensive practical experience with athletes of all abilities from beginner to elite levels.”

The eBook consists of 5 chapters which cover everything from evolution to human locomotion, body posture (kinematics) and the subsequent loading of the body’s structure (kinetics) to a look at proprioceptive feedback from the feet and tips on how best to transition to minimalist running.

  • We Have Forgotten How To Run
  • The Human Foot Is An Evolutionary Masterpiece
  • Proprioception: Our Sixth Sense
  • Footwear That Makes Sense
  • Reawaken Your Innate Barefoot Running Skill

Head on over to http://trainingclinic.vivobarefoot.com/running-the-skill/ and you will find a variety of additional resources, from videos to an iPhone/iPad app.

Since the recent inaugural Scottish Barefoot Run reawakened my interest in minimalist running, I have been looking at improving not only my technique but my knowledge and understanding of the issues involved. ‘Proprioception – Making Sense Of Barefoot Running’ is insightful, concisely written and easy to read and has helped me on the road to fully appreciating the importance of the foot.

When I started reading the document, after being pointed in the right direction by Lee’s colleague Ben Le Vesconte, I did not expect to find myself squatting, a movement that, with my tight legs, I find does not come easily to me. However, squatting is cited as one of the stages of transition, aiding balance, strength and flexibility and, as such, I now find myself attempting to ‘master squatting’ with the ultimate aim of improving my running.

If you read only one thing today, make sure it’s ‘Proprioception – Making Sense Of Barefoot Running’.

Do’s and Dont’s on Going Minimalist by Guest Blogger Julia Buckley

The first time I read Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run it inspired me to seek out a pair of the latest (at that time) minimalist running shoes, Vibram Five Fingers. Try as I might, I just couldn’t find any up here in the North East of Scotland and I wasn’t keen on mail order until I had tried them for size. I headed to Canada to get married & honeymoon in 2010 and I was certain I would be able to pick up a pair then, or at least, that was the plan. The sole (no pun intended) stockist that I found on my travels only stocked one model and even that was out of stock. So, I never did get to try trail running in VFFs!

I was reading with interest about a new trail specific version of the VFF, the spyridon. If anyone has any experience with this shoe, please drop me a tweet to let me know how you found them:

Fast forward a couple of years and VFF are now running minimalist running clinics although, unfortunately only in London for the meantime.

Julia Buckley, MD of www.fitnessrocks.co.uk and a frequent contributor to fitness magazines, has been attending the clinics and blogging about her experiences.

Given my interest in all things running and considering that I am looking to embark on some minimalist running of my own, I have included one of Julia’s recent posts, the ‘Do’s and Dont’s on Going Minimalist’, from August 1st 2012.

Thanks to Julia for letting me include this on www.pixelscotland.com.

Do’s and Dont’s on Going Minimalist

In yesterday’s post I said that going along to one of the Vibram FiveFingers clinics would be the perfect way to get an introduction to minimalist running. But I’ve been getting a lot of messages on twitter from people who are keen to give it a try but can’t make it to any of the London clinics. I know that Vibram are planning a national tour in the near future, so hopefully there’ll be a clinic near you soon. But I thought I’d share some of what I learned at Monday’s clinic to give you a few pointers if you’re keen to get started right away.

Don’t be Afraid!

I’ll admit it – I was a bit scared of those weird looking shoes to start off with! Being so used to ordinary trainers I thought running in something with so little cushioning might hurt. I’d read a lot about making “the transition” to minimalist shoes and it sounded like quite a technical process. But I can report that it was fine. I put the shoes on and I ran. It felt good. The way I ran did change, but I didn’t have to think about it – my feet seemed to automatically know what to do!

Do Take it Slowly

Having said all that, you don’t want to go out, buy a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, and continue running your normal distances in them as if you’ve just replaced your shoes like-with-like. Because you will be changing the way you move, your body will need time to adapt and you should build up gradually.

As with most things, everyone’s different and you should listen to your body. But, as a general rule of thumb, Vibram advise people to start out running about 10% of their usual distance in the FiveFingers shoes for the first couple of weeks. Then you can gradually increase the distance by 10-20% every two weeks afterwards. They also recommend taking rest days between runs for the first month.

Don’t do Anything that Hurts

If it hurts, stop. That’s a rule you should follow whatever you are doing really! Never try and push on through pain when you run or you could turn a minor niggle into a serious injury that will keep you out of training for much longer than if you rested up right away.

Plus it’s supposed to be fun – as Corrado said at the clinic, “We already have a job, this is not work, running is to be enjoyed!”.

Do Ask the Experts

I know I had lots of questions for the guys at the Vibram Clinic and talking to them really helped me feel confident in the shoes. If you’d like to go along to one of the clinics you can get free advice and a training session with them too. But if you can’t make it in person you can reach the team on Twitter or Facebook and they’ll be happy to help.


New post at The Running Bug, ‘Barefootin’

When it’s all you can do not to pump your hands in the air as one of your favourite trance tracks comes into the mix, you know that it’s as near to a perfect run as you can get and this run was certainly a contender on that front.

Coming off the back of the Highland Fling in late April and then The Cateran Trail Ultra the previous weekend, I was still carrying the niggle in my right ankle that I had picked up early on in The Cateran. With this in mind, I had planned a fairly gentle weekend of running but, as is so often the case, things just didn’t go to plan.

The location was the first part of the plan to change. We received an invite to join Mrs Mac’s mum and dad staying in Coylumbridge, just outside Aviemore and right at the foot of some of my favourite trails. Little did we know when we accepted the invite that we would arrive on the Friday to temperatures around 28 degrees and that the temperatures were set to continue right through the weekend – bonus!

Waking just after 5.30am on the Saturday to a glorious sunny day, I set out to run the 5 miles approx. of uphill that takes you from Coylumbridge to the mouth of the Lairig Ghru, one of my favourite, rooty, rocky trails consisting of approx. 3 miles of forest road and then a further 2 miles of singletrack.

As they say, what goes up, must come down and, as I have blogged before, this has to be one of the best descents in Scotland, taking me back down to Coylumbridge in time for some pre breakfast sunbathing before everyone else got up (yes, it was THAT hot!).

As the temperatures rose, the plans for the day were scaled back slightly and we ended up spending the morning walking from Glenmore to the Green Loch and then on to Ryvoan Bothy where we had lunch. We took a high path on the way there and then the lower route that we usually take on the way back and, with the discovery of yet another rocky, rooty path, I made a mental note to run the high path in future.

Waking at 6.00am on the Sunday, I set out again, this time in the direction of Loch Einich for a run that totalled just over 12 miles. It felt even hotter than the previous day and I ditched the top to run in Anton Krupicka style (only a ‘slightly’ more rotund version!). I figured that I wasn’t going to meet anyone this far out as 6.00 am. I can only apologise to the two people that I did see – I sincerely hope you were able to erase the image from your minds!

The waters en route were quite high and, coming to the last of these, I waded in until my legs felt like icicles (strangely refreshing) before turning around and heading back to Coylumbridge. I was approx 1 to 1.5 miles short of Loch Einich itself but was conscious of the time and wanted to be back before the family were up. An all day breakfast from the excellent Mountain Cafe was planned and, considering that my food intake up to that point had consisted of half a pack of Honey Stingers, I had built up quite an appetite!

Heading back along the high route this time, listening to Armin van Buuren in the mix, takes me back to the start of this post. I was having an absolute blast. It doesn’t get much better than this!

Now there was one significantly different element in all of this. I spent the entire weekend, both running and walking, in Merrell Trail Gloves. Back at the end of April Merrell were kind enough to send me a pair of their Trail Gloves to test. I have been running in the Trail Gloves through the week over shorter distances but, this weekend, I wanted to give them a real test on some of the best technical and harsh trails that I know.

I have dabbled with minimalist shoes in the past and, after reading Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run” the first time, I experimented by running barefoot on a treadmill (gets surprisingly hot underfoot!) before ‘progressing’ to a pair of neoprene surfers booties (gets surprisingly hot in the shoe!). I have since tried a few different minimalist shoes.

The idea behind minimalist running is as follows:

1. Align your posture
2. Balance your foot-landing
3. Count your cadence

As simple as ABC! There is considerably more information over at http://www.merrell.com/UK/en/Barefoot

Be sure to check out the Running Bug Good Form Guide as well.

The one thing that I just can’t stress enough is to start slow and build up barefoot activities, especially if you are new to running any distance.

The idea is to stimulate and strengthen your feet and this may well prove painful in the initial stages until your feet have become accustomed to running without the rigidity and cushioning of trainers. I found that my calf muscles in particular often tightened up during or after a barefoot run so I wore Compressport calf compression whilst running and this appears to have totally removed this issue from the equation.

As regular readers may be aware, the Merrells are quite far removed from my usual medium to long distance trail shoe. Weighing in at only 176g the shoes have a 0mm ball to heel drop with 4mm compression molded EVA midsole cushions and a 1mm forefoot shock absorption plate that maintains forefoot flexibility and protects the foot by distributing pressure.

Up until this weekend I had been testing them on the trails around Ellon and along the old railway line, the Formartine & Buchan Way. Compacted gravel trails, rooty, rocky forest trails, grass and mud all proved no problem as the Trail Gloves took everything that I could throw at them in their stride. Running through muddy puddles, they filled up and emptied again just as quick, leaving the feet to quickly dry off before encountering the next puddle. This was equally true this weekend as they filled with ice cold river water and emptied again, providing temporary refreshment for my feet in the heat.

The things that struck me were the roomy toe box, allowing the feet to splay, the breathability of the shoe, and the change in my running form that came (mostly) naturally. My cadence was increased, taking smaller steps so as not to stride out too far and land on the heel.

The main difference, and possibly even more exaggerated for me given the cushioning that I am used to, was feeling every rock, root and stone underfoot. Whilst strange at first, I soon learned to be more careful in picking my route rather than just trying to run over the top of everything and, in doing so, found myself ‘skipping’ about.

On a rare occasion I would misplace my foot and/or there simply would be no ‘good’ spot for footfall, and on these occasions I would feel whatever was underfoot. However, I actually found that this connecting with the terrain underfoot added to the run.

Blinded by the sun at one point this weekend, I kicked a rock which, unfortunately, turned out to be well rooted in the ground. I was surprised not to break my toe but it would appear that the rubber toe bumper on the Trail Glove offers more protection than might be expected of a shoe that can roll completely into a ball and, other than the initial sharp pain, there were no long term ill effects.

One thing that I can say for sure about running in the Trail Gloves is that it is FUN!

My experience with the Trail Glove has actually left me wondering just how far I could run in them, though with the 95 mile West Highland Way Race now less than 4 weeks away, sensibility prevents me from testing this out… for now at least. Certainly, I know of a couple of ultra runners who have run around the 50 mile mark in Merrell Trail Gloves. Going by my efforts of 10 and 12 miles this weekend, I reckon I could run at least 20 miles in them, if not more. Once the West Highland Way Race has passed it will definitely be time to put my theory to the test!

I have also found myself wearing the shoes for everyday use. Funnily enough, I took to running in them quicker than I did to walking in them and, if anything, it is my walking style that needs improved!

The Merrell minimalist range now includes ranges for Run, Train, Water and Life. Runners contemplating the minimalist approach to running should check out the Trail Glove and/or the Road Glove. Merrell have also recently added the Run Bare Access shoe to the range. Described as “For distance runners and those new on the path to barefoot running”, the shoe maintains the 0mm drop but with additional cushioning. Now that sounds like my next shoe for sure!

Don’t just take my word for it, check out what everyone else thinks online.

One reviewer wrote “The trail glove is to trainers what Apple Macs are to computers”. I don’t think you can pay much more of a compliment than that!

“I bet you can barefoot all night long
Take off your shoes and throw them away,
Come back and get them another day
We’re barefootin’, We’re barefootin’,
We’re barefootin’, We’re barefootin'”

Robert Parker – 1966

It’s All In The Eating

New post at The Running Bug, ‘It’s All In The Eating‘.

It has been two days now since my second Cateran Trail Ultramarathon and I am feeling more than a touch battered!

I had an excellent day. The race organisation was superb and the marshals were on top form as always. John Stanton, author and founder of Canada’s Running Room recently tweeted “Race volunteers – some of the nicest people you have never met” and this is definitely an apt description. Having said that, I did know a few of the marshals and I am starting to recognise quite a few more of them from all of the various ultras that I have run of late. A huge thanks to them all – your positivity and helpfulness certainly played its part in getting the runners to the end on Saturday. Thanks for giving up your day to help make ours so special.

Thanks also to Race Director Karen Donoghue and to the RD’s assistant George Reid. It really was the perfect day, from the family like atmosphere at the Spittal of Glenshee hotel all weekend, through to the race itself, including the perfect weather for running, and, finally, through to the prize giving ceremony at the end where each finisher received their quaich.

The race itself was quite daunting. Despite having completed it the previous year, there were certain bits of the course that had somehow filled me with dread, including some particularly boggy sections that, certainly last year, felt like they were never ending. With a small field of runners, there was also the possibility of getting lost and I really did ‘try’ my best to do this, especially in the first 6 miles. As one of the marshals said, you really do need to “look aboot ye”!

The other aspect that was quite daunting was the relatively close proximity to the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, now less than 5 weeks away. Anything less than a finish on Saturday would have been a bit of a psychological blow as it was the last race in my build up to the WHW Race and was a key training component in terms of a last really long run.

As it was, it was a really positive day for me but with a single niggle.

Getting the niggle out of the way – The first 6 miles contained some pretty muddy, boggy terrain. Hardly surprising given the weather of late and, to be honest, it was a relief not to arrive in Glenshee to snow covered mountains. Somewhere in those first 6 miles some gloopy mud grabbed my right foot and refused to let go without a fight, causing me to over extend somewhat. The back of my ankle is red and swollen, as I found when I removed my shoe back at the hotel. Throughout the day, it resulted in a sharp stabbing pain on both the uphill and flat sections. Regardless (definitely stubbornly and possibly stupidly) I was determined to push on and I spent the next 49 miles approx. nursing the ankle to the end.

The real success story of the day for me was my nutrition and hydration. A number of runners have been advocating the natural food approach to ultrarunning, especially for those of us about to tackle the 95 miles of the West Highland Way. The thought of relying on gels for 95 miles turns my stomach just thinking about it and, following the Fling, where I barely touched a gel for the whole race, I set out with no gels whatsoever, replacing them with ‘real food’. The Slimfast cafe latte shakes, mini cans of Coca Cola and pots of Muller Rice that had worked so well at the Fling were also in my drop bags for the Cateran but were joined by McVities Jamaica Ginger Cake and cheese & onion sandwiches. I also took a slightly different approach at the checkpoints, downing the Coca Cola and Slimfast and eating the Muller Rice but opting to carry the rest of the food, nibbling at the sandwiches and Ginger Cake on steep uphill sections. Overall, I found that my energy levels were much more consistent throughout the race and I didn’t suffer quite as many lows as usual, even with the dodgy ankle slowing things down!

If you have ever googled for ultrarunning nutrition advice or read Christopher McDougall’s book Born To Run, you may have come across the following definition of an ultramarathon from Sunny Blende, MS, Sports Nutritionist:

“An eating and drinking contest, with a little exercise and scenery thrown in.”

That definitely sums up my day and, following the success of the approach, will also be my strategy for the West Highland Way Race. I have already started compiling a food list for my crew which includes all of the above but also things like tomato soup, porridge, pasta and baked potatoes. Without a doubt, this will look more like a weekly shopping list by the time the race comes around!

I met up with many familiar faces this weekend and spoke with quite a few new ones who all helped to take my mind off my ankle and keep me heading forward. One in particular, Angus, was determined to see me up and over the final hill at the end with as little slacking off as possible and, for that, I thank you. I am sure you could have shot off to the finish as you were looking so fresh. Thanks for sticking around to give me company over the hill and down to the finish line – it was much appreciated.

I finished the race in 12.27, a new PB by 38 minutes and an improvement on my 12:36 from the Fling. With an extra 2 miles, same ascent but slightly less technical terrain, the 2 races generally give comparable times and, last year, I was 2 minutes over my Fling time.

The sections that I had dreaded passed without incident and, looking back, actually passed far quicker this year. It probably does help knowing that you are in fact going the right way and are not totally lost (suspected this at a couple of points last year as the terrain was so boggy!).

I had a surprise visit from Mrs Mac at the Blairgowrie checkpoint (31 miles) which was an unexpected boost. We had a leisurely journey home the following day, following a hearty breakfast at the Spittal of Glenshee and stopped off in Braemar to climb Creag Choinnich which helped loosen off the muscles a bit.

So, that’s The Cateran Trail Ultramarathon for 2012 done and dusted. From 75 who signed up, 65 made the start line and 54 finished.

The countdown to The West Highland Way Race has now begun!