Robillard, The Barefoot Running Book

Jason Robillard’s The Barefoot Running Book is a primer on the “art & science of barefoot running.” At seventy-some pages, this first edition amounts to a relatively informal extended essay, every bit as minimalist as the running equipment it advocates. Robillard, a psychology teacher from Grand Rapids and blogger at Barefoot Running University, recommends a slow-buildup approach to barefoot running that moves predictably from pre-running (foot strengthening and sole toughening) to barefoot exercises concerned with footstrike (“foot kiss”), cadence, and relaxation to intermediate and advanced training. The book also offers cautionary advice about blisters, minimalist shoes, avoiding debris (a basic assumption being that this barefoot running happens on hard surfaces, such as pavement). All of this guidance rests on a premise I largely accept as reasonable, which is that running shoes, or “foot coffins” as Robillard calls them, muffle many of the foot’s potential sensitivities, resulting in weakened, hobbled feet.

I am no barefoot runner as of yet, but the emphases Robillard places on falling forward and on processing foot lifts rather than foot falls are instructive to me as a novice. And will probably continue to say “novice” for many more years because I don’t run often or far or with much desire to identify as a runner, much less a minimalist runner. These ideas from Robillard come more as reminders than as new ideas; the running I’ve been doing lately (just under 3.5 miles three mornings each week) has been relatively stress free, as stress free as any running I have done before. That is, I don’t think of this as hardcore training or even exercise but as something more like meditation.

So why should I be reading a book on barefoot running? This is due entirely to my brother’s influence. The book arrived Kindle-lent as an experiment between us to understand how Kindle book loans work. That this was a lent book meant I could have it for fourteen days (expired today). I wanted not only to read the book in that time, but also to add a couple of annotations and disconnect my Kindle from the network to learn whether, when the loan period expired, it would remain on the device. So far, it has. I received the expiration notice via email this morning from Amazon, but I have been able to access the book and annotations the same as before (note: I have not connected the Kindle to the network; when I do, I suspect the status of the book will change. What of the notes? I don’t know yet.). Here’s one of them, on scanning a few steps ahead: “In either case [smooth asphalt or rugged trails], you eventually develop foot-eye coordination. Your eyes will scan the terrain in front of you. Your brain will create a cognitive map of that terrain” (Loc. 951).

I’m intrigued by barefoot running, but the extent of my training in the near term will be to end the morning loop by removing my shoes and walking a little less than a half mile barefoot while cooling down. Maybe by October I will try to jog it. That’s probably going to be the end of it before winter (although Robillard says he runs barefoot in temps as low as 20F). And I will, of course, have my brother to thank (or curse), considering he is nowadays running upwards of three miles barefoot on asphalt. That he doesn’t seem at all miserable about it—quite the opposite!—makes it harder for me to dismiss as lunacy.


Rec-IM Eastward

I took this Friday just before 10 a.m. as I wrapped up a short workout in Olds-Robb, or Rec-IM (this second one is the better-known of the building’s names, I’m told). The photo is East-facing, a view of Pray-Harrold and other structures on either side whose names I don’t know (education on the far right; health services, I think, on the near left). I opted for a day-pass on Tuesday to try out the facility and found the small satellite fitness cove on the fourth floor was exactly what I was looking for. The weight equipment is slightly worn, but it works. It is heavy. And the cardio options are adequate, even a cut above adequate. A row of bikes, ellipticals, and treadmills face East, which means I can see all of Pray-Harrold (pictured). Pray-Harrold: my office is there, my department, the classroom where I teach this semester.

Friday I signed up for a year-long membership and took as a gift of appreciation a sturdy green umbrella. The full year membership ensures that I’ll be back, back for the Tuesday-Thursday faculty-staff noon-time pick-up games or for a couple of laps in the 50-meter pool or for yet another circuit on the fourth floor.

Tulip Economy and Fitness

Last week, when I ran across Henry Farrell’s

Crooked Timber entry on flogrolling
, I was also reading from Watts’

Six Degrees
and Barabasi’s

.  Flogrolling, as I understand it from the


I could find it in recent circulation, names the aggressive efforts
to publicize or promote links, thereby elevating the rate of emergence of newer
bloggers.  From Farrell’s entry and the comments following it, the
discussion seems to center on the problem of spamming entries to

and the resulting skew altering an entry’s popularity or
"interestingness" (a term which Farrell acknowledges as "ugly"). 
Flogrolling potentially circumvents more authentic geneses of interest in
small-world networks, such as those networks constituting the blogosphere. It
assumes, with links as a basic unit of exchange, rank is sharable; it can be
passed from one high-ranking blog to another through simple linking, even if
such linking is profit-motivated.  Consequently, the new weblog stands on
the shoulders and enjoys a fleeting, deceptive mobility.  Yes?

Although Barabasi doesn’t write directly
about weblogs, a few principles from his research seem to apply.  Foremost, Barabasi suggests that scale-free networks
(as distinguished from random networks) should be understood in terms of growth and preferential attachment.  Their busy edges and volatile topologies present us with just a few defining premises–premises which, as I understand them, may or may not apply neatly to the blogosphere or, more specifically, the network(s) of politically-interested blogs and bloggers.  In a scale-free network (which is a theoretical abstraction, Watts tells us…no network can be both an object of study and purely scale-free), we might guess that the earliest-established nodes (some turned hubs) occupy a privileged position, near the tall margin of the power law graph (in fairness, Farrell and Drezner speculate that the politically-interested blogosphere follows a

lognormal distribution
, rather than a power law).  But when we factor
in competitiveness–the ongoing "up-for-grabs" nature of links–network fitness intervenes, bucking the assumption that the first-comers hold a protected position of privilege in the network.  Fitness addresses the consequence of newly adjoining nodes, latecomers who inject new energy to the network, often with the potential of cascading beyond the proximal nodes and, thereby, imparting other effects.  Barabasi
discusses this phenomenon in terms of Einstein-Bose condensations and Bose
gases, and although my few notes here are mostly just a summary of Barabasi’s
middle chapters, some of his physics references are more scientific than I can
write through with confidence just yet.

I’d like to return to the idea of "authentic geneses of interest."  How
do we find weblogs we’re interested in or, more specifically, entries we’re
interested in?  If we accept that ordinary links (rather than trackbacks)
are the dominant currency unit in the blogosphere, then I suppose it follows
reasonably that futzing with the genuine link as a gesture of interest and
replacing it, instead, with the flogrolled link–a paid-for gesture meant to
by-pass the economic order, results in economic disturbance. And although this
quasi-counterfeiting might initially appear in the form of robust new
accelerations in traffic for newcomers exploiting such a system, I tend to think
that the net effect will be negligible. Maybe that’s too strong a way to put it. 
But as I read it alongside Watts’ discussion of tulip economies (196)–the
high-hopes bubbles bursting over The Netherlands following the spark-fizzle of
bulb sales, I had the impression that flogrolling will settle out as one of the
lesser disturbances in the blogosphere. Just how great is the disturbance? 
How long will it elevate low-interest (or artificially trafficked) sites into
lofty standing before those sites must self-sustain or before the network’s
fitness coefficient stabilizes again?  It’s just a hypothesis, really, but
the selective paths of specific readers who follow links according to interest
or reputation will restore the regular patterns.  Granted, much of this
does little to account for the different ways we trace paths of interest across
the various small-world networks of the blogosphere.  Whether by RSS,
Technorati searches, trackbacks, chains of blogrolls, conventional links and so
on–distinctions in how our interestedness is enacted when reading across the
blogosphere most definitely bears on these tentative few ideas.