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Greg Washington. Courtesy American Federation of Arts/Bata Shoe Museum
Greg Washington. Courtesy American Federation of Arts/Bata Shoe Museum

This Is the World’s Oldest Running Shoe

Greg Washington. Courtesy American Federation of Arts/Bata Shoe Museum
Greg Washington. Courtesy American Federation of Arts/Bata Shoe Museum

The first shoes crafted specifically for running look nothing like the neon-tinged, rubber soled, breathable athletic sneakers of today. In fact, they look like they might be a weaponized dress shoe straight out of James Bond. 

The oldest example still around from the earliest days of athletic wear is a shoe made by Thomas Dutton and Thorowgood in the early 1860s, on display at the Brooklyn Museum right now as part of their exhibit “The Rise of Sneaker Culture.” 

While track-and-field-type events have existed since ancient times (Ireland’s Tailteann Games date back to 1500 BCE [PDF]), running as a popular sport—with its own equipment—didn’t take off until much later. In the early 1800s, “pedestrianism,” or competitive walking, became popular among the leisure classes, followed by running. While the marathon is named after the 26.2 mile run Pheidippides took from Marathon to Athens in 490 BCE, it didn’t become a regular sporting event until the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.  

Early running shoes looked a lot like typical men’s dress shoes, made of leather and with a small heel at the back. But they also featured spikes on the soles for grip, and an extra band of leather across the front of the shoe for support. Just take a moment to imagine the ensuing blisters. 

[h/t: Smithsonian]

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Smiling Could Improve Your Athletic Performance—But Your Grins Can't Be Fake
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Athletes obviously enjoy breaking a sweat, but it’s not often that you’ll see one break into a smile while in the throes of competition. Yet that’s exactly what many coaches instruct them to do: Grinning mid-race has been said to relax muscles and boost physical performance. Recently, a group of researchers put this theory to the test, according to The New York Times. Their findings were published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

Researchers from Ulster University in Northern Ireland and Swansea University in Wales instructed a group of 24 non-professional runners—both men and women—to shift between smiles and scowls while running on a treadmill. The volunteers were told that the experiment would measure how certain factors affected the amount of oxygen they used while jogging at various running speeds.

For the experiment’s first stage, runners wore face masks that measured their breathing. As they exercised until fatigue, researchers asked them to rate how they felt and report their coping strategies—for example, whether were they ignoring their pain or embracing it.

The study’s second segment required volunteers to engage in four individual runs, each lasting for six minutes. Mid-run, they were told to smile both genuinely and continuously, to scowl, to relax their torsos using a visualization technique, or to simply fall back on their usual endurance mindsets.

Smiles didn’t always improve runners’ performances. A few subjects picked up the pace while grimacing, possibly because these “game faces” made them ultra-determined to beat their personal records. But overall, runners with smiles were nearly 3 percent more efficient than normal. While seemingly insignificant, this difference is large enough to affect someone’s race performance, experts say.

Keeping in mind the study’s small size, the authors conclude that exercising while smiling might reduce muscular tension and thus amp up performance. But in order to gain this positive effect, athletes must beam genuinely. Fake smiles, like the kind you’ll see in school pictures, don’t work as many facial muscles, and therefore result in lower levels of relaxation.

Since it’s hard for anyone (let alone a focused athlete) to maintain an authentic smile during prolonged periods of strenuous activity, scientists suggest smiling near a race’s end, in 30-second intervals.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Marathon Running Won't Undo Poor Lifestyle Choices, Study Suggests
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Even marathon participants can't outrun an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a new study highlighted by The New York Times.

For years, expert opinion has been mixed on whether long-distance running helps or hurts hearts. In the 1970s, research suggested that marathon running and a heart-healthy diet would completely prevent atherosclerosis (a buildup of harmful plaque in the arteries). But since high-profile runners have died of heart attacks, scientists in the 1980s began to worry that running might actually harm the vital organ. Compounding this fear in recent years were studies suggesting that male endurance athletes exhibited more signs of heart scarring or plaques than their less-active counterparts.

Experts don't have a verdict quite yet, but researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford and their colleagues have some good news—running doesn't seem to harm athletes' hearts, but it's also not a panacea for heart disease. They figured this out by asking 50 longtime marathon runners, all male, with an average age of 59, to fill out questionnaires about their training, health history, and habits, and then examining them for signs of atherosclerosis.

Only 16 of the runners ended up having no plaque in their arteries, and the rest exhibited slight, moderate, or worrisome amounts. The men who had unhealthy hearts also had a history of smoking and high cholesterol. A grueling training regime seemed to have no effect on these levels.

Bottom line? Marathon running won't hurt your heart, but it's not a magic bullet for poor lifestyle choices.

[h/t The New York Times]

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