The J-Word, And Other Running Controversies

rage face

Image courtesy David Rader II

Most people think of runners as a friendly group.

However, there are some issues that can get even the most polite runner riled up. While it’s generally considered good form to not bring up these issues, ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. Besides, what’s the internet without a little controversy?

Here, from least to most contentious, are the three topics most likely to send a group of runners into fits of rage. Or, at least into fits of something slightly more hostile than complete apathy.

If you’re prone to foaming at the mouth, you may want to have a towel handy.

1. Shirtless Running

Run Rage: Mild
On the spectrum of hotly debated topics, this one is pretty mild.

Arguments on the pro-shirtless side include:

  • In accordance with the dress 20° warmer rule, some days you have to run shirtless to keep cool.
  • Running shirtless decreases your overall weight, allowing you to run faster.
  • Sans textile, the odds of spontaneous nipple bleeding are significantly reduced.
    (Please see a doctor immediately if nipples bleed spontaneously while not exposed to significant sources of chafing.)
  • It’s fun.

Arguing for the shirted camp, opponents’ claims include:

  • Running shirtless increases sun exposure and, therefore, the risk of melanoma.
  • As a corollary, having to carry sunscreen (to reapply as you sweat it off) negates any weight lost by not wearing a shirt.
  • And, of course, the obligatory baseless rant: you’re a fat, ugly, idiot, and I don’t want to see you shirtless. This argument is also seen in the rarer: I’m a fat, ugly, idiot and no one wants to see me shirtless.

So, Midpack Readers? Shirts or skins?

2. Barefoot Running

Run Rage: Moderate
The debate over barefoot running came into renewed focus with the publication of Chris McDougall’s book, Born to Run. If you’re the last holdout, it’s a good read. I suggest you pick up a copy so you can see what the fuss is about (hence the affiliate link).

Discussions of barefoot running can become pretty heated, with occasional accusations of corporate shillery and luddite-ism. For the sake of argument, this discussion will stick to the arguments backed by science and observation.

Arguments for running shod:

  • Supporters cite an increasing rate of injury among barefoot runners. As Competitor senior editor Matt Fitzgerald put it, “[...] not all humans are, in fact, born to run [...]“.
  • People who suffer from an abnormal gait which, according to statistics, could represent as much as 70% of runners, are more likely to injure themselves without the corrective influence of shoes.

Barefoot proponents counter:

With solid research on both sides, this one’s hardly a shoo-in. Any no shirt, no shoe types among us, readers?

3. Running vs. Jogging

Run Rage: Severe
By far the fastest way to turn a fun run into an all-out brawl is to suggest that someone else enjoy their jog. It’ll work twice as well if you can manage a derisive snort following that statement.

Those who make the distinction cite two factors that determine a jog:

  • There is a level of seriousness, dedication to the sport, that joggers lack.
  • By the dictionary definiton of running, there is a biomechanical difference in the gait cycle of a runner, and a jogger. The run cycle places more strain on the foot and ankle, where the jog cycle puts more strain on the knees and back.

However, there is a basis for a counter argument:

  • Taking the “a square is a rectangle” approach, the dictionary definition of jogging defines jogging as a slow run! Thus joggers are runners.
  • More personally, proponents argue that it is the spirit of the sport that matters, not the form.

A wise runner would steer clear of this debate in polite company. Luckily, we’re not polite company here. So… are joggers runner wannabes, or full fledged pack-mates?

Now that you’re all fired up, I’m sure you can’t resist letting me know where you stand on these issues. Leave me a comment and make your position known! Just be sure to keep it polite. After all, we’re all friends here, right?

  14 Responses to The J-Word, And Other Running Controversies
  1. SHIRTLESS! Dr. Gordon Ainsleigh, one of the founders of the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler is a shirtless runner, as well as Anton Kurpicka, famous ultra-marathoner. I’m in the South, and have been running shirtless this year. I already have a nice tan without ever burning, before the beach season even begins. Like all things, sun exposure has to be done according to each runner’s common sense and digestion of all the info out there. I mean, if you went to a dermatologist, you’d be scared to death to walk out the front door during daylight hours. My wife says that it’s the exposure one got during their youth that determines susceptibility to melanoma. And in my youth, we lived all of the summer at my grandparent’s ocean front beach house. We tanned as dark as is possible for caucasians! But yes, we have high humidity here and it’s so nice to have the wind help dry-up the sweat, and too, since I run long, don’t have to worry about bandaids for the nipples! Enjoy! Peace and Love!

    • Tim Woodbury

      Hey, Ricky!

      I’ve heard something similar regarding sun exposure. There’s also research suggesting that regular exposure may prevent melanoma. With so much contradictory info out there, it’s no wonder it’s controversial.

      On an unrelated note, have you tried a liquid bandage to prevent nipple chafing? Band-aids don’t always stay put for me, but the liquid stuff holds out for a couple of days (even if I’m done with it).

  2. Well, I’m a girl, so the shirtless question really hasn’t come up. I’d be curious if other runners (female or male) have tried lansinoh cream to prevent nipple chafing, though. That’s a common treatment & preventative for the ravages of breastfeeding.

    But as for the other two: I’m neutral on barefoot (won’t do it myself, but know several who do successfully); and I would probably bristle if someone said I jog.

    The jog/run distinction seems kind of quaint, though. I usually refer to all of it as running, with lots of grades/types along the spectrum. Then again, I’m pretty amateur and that may be reflected in my terminology!

    • Tim Woodbury

      The shirtless issue is usually framed as sports bra only for women, unless you’re in the Bare Buns Fun Run.

      As for lansinoh, I’m a guy, so the breastfeeding question hasn’t come up. :P Seriously though, I’ve not heard of lansinoh cream. What’s the consistency like? I know a lot of runners use Vaseline, but that’s a feeling that would give me the willies for sure.

      • Then heck yeah, sports bra. Related to the aforementioned child-carrying, -bearing and -feeding, I’m not sure the midsection of a mid-30s mom is of much interest to onlookers, but if it’s a zillion degrees, my vanity goes out the window.

        Lansinoh is a brand of purified lanolin. It’s sort of Vaseline-like, but it doesn’t feel like an oil-refinery product.

        • Tim Woodbury

          Interesting! You learn something new every day. Now that you’ve revealed the secret, you’re going to be competing with a bunch of male runners in the baby food/maternity section. ;)

  3. Kat (a different one)

    I, also female, don’t run shirtless. I figure if I’m wearing a bra, the positive arguments don’t hold much weight. Plus, I can stop in at work without needing to stop for clothes first.

    I’ve been wearing the New Balance Minimus sneakers lately, and am impressed with the foot muscle strengthening that’s been going on. If I lived somewhere that it was safe to run without shoes, I would. The Minumus allows me to run more without foot problems than the last four or five types of sneakers I’ve tried.

    Running/jogging– I don’t really care what you call it, as long as you’re doing it.

    • Tim Woodbury

      Having free access to run-free zones is definitely a plus. I’ve been hearing from a fair number of shirtless, shoe-less runners who have been turned away at convenience stores and the like. Not good if you are in desperate need of water or a restroom.

      Great point about the muscle strengthening, Kat. I think most runners, shod or otherwise, could benefit from foot strengthening exercises.

      Did you check out any of the other minimalist shoes (Brooks Green Silence, Saucony Kinvara, Vibram Five Fingers) before deciding on the Minimus?

      • Kat (a different one)

        I tried on Vibram’s Five Fingers and Merrell’s Barefoot Pace Glove. The Merrells didn’t fit right. I have very narrow heels and a wide forefoot. I loved the Five Fingers, but I was worried they’d be outlawed at work. It’s one thing to be focusing lights on a ladder in shoes that look like shoes and another with shoes that look like a step up from sandals.

        A word of warning- the shoes all come with some form of caution to start out wearing them around the house and work up to long runs. I rolled my eyes at this, since I spend as much time as possible not wearing shoes and didn’t see the point in working my feet away from corrective/supportive footwear. I paid the price with some very angry feet.

        • Tim Woodbury

          Classic minimalist error. I think we’ve all been there, Kat! ;)

          My first run in VFFs was a 5-miler, with a 400 foot rise in the first 2. I was walking funny for a week, easy.

  4. Hmm, I’ve never really thought about the shirt/shirtless debate but oohhh I have STRONG feelings on running v. jogging:

    • Tim Woodbury

      Hey, Mollie! I saw that article when you posted. Anyone reading here should take a minute and check it out. Funny stuff in there.

      Running v. Jogging is a tough argument because there’s so little science and so much emotion behind it. Biomechanics only goes so far.

  5. David

    Barefoot, shirtless runner here. Although i do have to wear shoes the day after a long barefoot run on the road.
    Thought i’d let you know there are some of us out here

  6. Tim Maddox

    I jog/run barefoot at times, I jog/run shirtless at times, sometimes I jog/run in shoes. Mainly I’m out to explore what happens. Sometimes I go far, sometimes I cripple myself. It’s all a long learning process. My goal is to be able to stay active into my golden years. It’s an experiment in progress.

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