Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and Cnoc Outdoors is proud to join Earth Day Oregon, other Oregon businesses and non-profits to Amplify Earth Day!
Creating a strong and sustainable world takes everyone's collective action, that's why Cnoc Outdoors and other Earth Day Oregon partners are working to advance the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals to reduce inequalities and improve the health of our planet.
This year, Cnoc Outdoors is honored to support Friends of the Columbia Gorge, the only non-profit organization dedicated entirely to ensuring that the beautiful and wild Columbia Gorge remains an unspoiled treasure for generations to come.
Cnoc Outdoors will donate 10% of all proceeds from sales today - Earth Day 2020 - to Friends of the Columbia Gorge so they can continue their important work. Please join us today in supporting non-profits in our communities and around the world as they work to keep the planet healthy and vibrant.
About Friends of the Columbia Gorge
In 1980, recognizing the ever-increasing threat of urban development encroaching into the Columbia Gorge, a threat symbolized with the construction of the suburban I-205 freeway and bridge over the Columbia River, a group of concerned citizens led by Nancy Russell formed Friends of the Columbia Gorge, an organization that would lead the effort to secure passage of federal legislation to protect the beautiful, wild Columbia River Gorge.
On November 18, 1986, we secured that protection. Congress passed, and President Ronald Reagan signed into law, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act, creating comprehensive Gorge protection across six counties and two states. Since that momentous day, Friends has continued its member-driven Gorge conservation work.
Friends of the Columbia Gorge's goal is to vigorously protect the scenic, natural, cultural, and recreational resources of the Columbia River Gorge. They fulfill this mission by ensuring strict implementation of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act and other laws protecting the region of the Columbia River Gorge; promoting responsible stewardship of Gorge land, air, and waters; encouraging public ownership of sensitive areas; educating the public about the unique natural values of the Columbia River Gorge and the importance of preserving those values; and working with groups and individuals to accomplish mutual preservation goals.
Let me start with a little background: back in the day I was a tank driver, and managed to injure my knees pretty seriously along the way. A couple of surgeries later and many, many, many hours of physiotherapy later, my orthopedist told me that I probably would never be able to run again. Back then, I was fine with it, since I hated running.
A few years later I moved to England and joined the local outdoor/climbing/running community as part of my career. During that time I got introduced to the idea of barefoot running - it was very popular and cool - so I tried it, and loved it. I read Born To Run, like everyone else, and got into running more seriously including long hikes in minimalist shoes and even tried the Vibram FiveFingers. Yes, my wife found it a bit odd too.
I have been using zero drop footwear for over a decade now, and I have no knee pain anymore. I run regularly, hike often, have thru-hiked hundreds of miles, and am an active parent to two small humans. My knees never hurt from these activities, in direct contrast to the prognosis I was given all those many years ago.
So why am I telling you all this? Not to get you into the barefoot running idea. It has turned out to be mainly a fad of the last decade, though some of us stayed with it. No, the reason I'm telling you all this is about what stayed: zero drop footwear, the meeting between traditional movement style and modern footwear technology.
A brief history of modern running footwear
In the olden days, before Nike, you had dress shoes, heels and for the athletes: flats. All runners for a very long time used flat running shoes (aka: flats) for track racing, while the rest of the developing world used what ever they could find to cover their feet and protect them from being shredded.
Fast forward to 1966, Bill Bowerman, Nike and Jogging. Americans were introduced to a new concept: running for physical exercise. Until the 60's, running was only required as cross training for athletes. It became increasingly clear that the modern, sanitary, and increasingly suburban USA needed to move; jogging was the answer.
In 1966, Blue Ribbon Sports (later Nike) developed jogging shoes and found that runners needed support to run on roads in the suburbs. To make the shoes even better, a "bouncing" effect was introduced that included increasing the heel height to "push" the runner forward.
This move to footwear that is meant to move us forward was the end of flats for runners and the introduction of differential and stacked height technologies in athletic shoes.
Differential and Stacked Height
Two terms often used for athletic footwear (including trail shoes) are stacked height and deferential.
Stacked height is the total of height of material between the ground and the foot. This is where the term barefoot, minimal, maximal or other is used. Stack height is marked by mm and are in the specifications part of the shoe (heel, mid, toe). The higher the number, the softer, or more supple, the shoe is.
Differential is the height difference between the forefoot's rest place in the shoe and the heel's, also measured in mm and this is where we find zero drop, aka: zero differential. Here, the higher the number, the higher the heel is compared to the forefoot.
Zero drop footwear
Now that we have defined some terms, we can focus on zero drop footwear: shoes (and boots and sandals) that have a flat bottom and may include lots of cushioning, or none at all.
The idea behind zero drop footwear is to allow a natural stride and gait, utilizing the foot's natural bounce and structure. The foot is like a spring, using the arch to absorb the impact of movement by tensing the calf to avoid hard impact of the heel. By using a flat surface (flat shoe) instead of shoes with an elevated heel, we use that natural bounce and shock absorbing that our feet have instead of a big soft foamy heel in the shoe.
This natural stride and form is now seen as healthier and reduces injury risks for athletes (runners or long distance hikers), especially those engaging in repetitive activity.
There are several companies out there that offer zero drop footwear. Some claim to have "invented" the modern zero drop shoe, but as discussed above, it is a pretty old concept. All sport footwear companies that cater to runners have had a running flat (or race shoe) in their range.
Currently, there are several companies that are carrying the zero drop flag:
Issues with zero drop
After years of getting used to using footwear with some amount of differential (check your shoes, you'll find almost all of them have a heel) people develop short calf muscles, which then causes problems when exploring the world of zero drop shoes.
Natural stride requires shifting our posture forward, utilizing the forefoot (not the the heel) as we stride. This kind of natural movement puts lots of pressure on the calf to rebound the impact from the stride. In order to get the most out of zero drop footwear and a natural stride, especially without injury, there are two key things to do:
Practice correct form
Train and stretch calf muscles
Training for healthy use of zero drop footwear
Developing the right form for natural movement is tricky and consists of three factors: standing straight, taking smaller strides and having bouncy steps. Instead of me taking you through a very long attempt to explain, please read this great article from the Natural Running Center: http://naturalrunningcenter.com/natural-running-form/
The article has all you need to run correctly; when you are ready to dive deeply into healthy walking practices that are directly connected to natural movement, research Alexander Technique. For a crash course, the video below explains it all:
The biggest hurdle and the easiest to sort out is caring for calf muscles by strengthening them and elongating them to avoid injury. Tight, sore calves lead to bad form, and increased chance for rolled ankles and shin splits. Caring for your calves should be done by practicing long calf raises, starting gradually and working up to more.
Find a step of choice (can be stairs or side walk) and practice long calf raises:
Aim for doing these twice a day, 3 times each, with increased repetition starting from day 5.
Before getting into any physical activity, check with your doctor to confirm no underlying issue that will prevent you from do this safely.
With the right training of form and calves, you too can enjoy the benefits of zero drop footwear, especially if you are due to tackle a long distance trail. The long term benefits are huge and it does allow for healthier and more comfortable hiking. Just check how many Altra shoes you can find on the long trails in the US to understand how much zero drop is part of being able to hike hundreds of even thousands of miles.
As we practice safe social distancing, many of us have had to cancel, cut short or alter our hiking and camping plans for this spring and summer. At CNOC Outdoors, we’ve been daydreaming about getting back on the trail once it is safe to do so. In the meantime, and to help us cope with cabin fever (and homeschooling!), we would love to hear about your Best Day On The Trail during 2019!
To enter the Best Day On The Trail contest, submit your true story from the trail during 2019 to email@example.com until April 19, 2020 with the headline “Best Day On The Trail competition.” We prefer entries with photographs, and please aim for a 500 word limit. If you want to share your story with the world, use #BestDayOnTheTrail.
How to Win
The participants with the stories we deem to be the best (i.e. those that make us most want to get back out on the trail) will be the winners. We will choose three stories from all the entries emailed to us by April 19, 2020 to publish on our blog.