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September 18, 2009

Fast Old Guys Rule

A couple of administrative notes – the first of which solicits some audience participation - before today's post …

1) I’m not sure what to attribute this to, but the issue of environmentally and socially responsible business practices has been on my mind a lot lately. It may have something to do with the fact that two recent product reviews were from companies – Patagonia and Terra Plana – who place those concerns front and center in their business model. Perhaps it’s because the barefoot running community I’m slowly infiltrating tends to exhibit a pretty strong tree-hugging, vegan-dieting, love-your-Mother Earth vibe that’s rubbing off on me. Or maybe my worldview is simply maturing a bit as I grow older. (On second thought … nah, that can’t be it.)

Regardless, I’ve received several thought-provoking comments and e-mails attesting to the moral complexities of the issue, and it seems like something worth exploring a little more in-depth at some point. More specifically, I’d like to find some way that average consumers (read: you and I) can learn about the environmental and human rights practices of a company whenever we’re considering purchasing its products. Does your favorite brand willingly contaminate our planet, or minimize their impact as much as possible? Does it exploit Chinese labor, or devote its resources towards effecting positive changes and improving the lives of its work force? These seem like things we should know.

Ideally, there would be some objective third parties to give companies report card-style grades in a variety of categories, which would be available online for the rest of the world to see. The trouble is, after bouncing through a handful of Google searches, I’m finding that such information is fairly difficult to come by.

I’d like to compile a post in the near future with some basic consumer guidelines and useful links that you can bookmark and refer to from time to time – and that’s where I’m seeking your assistance. If you know of a good watchdog agency out there, drop me a comment or e-mail with the name or website, and I’ll gather them up for collective consumption sometime. I know of a few decent leads, but I’m frequently surprised by information people bring to my attention that I simply had no idea about. So here’s your chance to dazzle me.

2) On an only slightly related topic … the Vivo Barefoot sale that I mentioned in my previous post continues through October 31st - and instead of writing text links into repeated reminder posts, I’ve put a block advertisement on the right-hand sidebar that takes you directly to the Vivo Barefoot site. I’ll leave it there through the end of next month to promote the sale as the other posts roll forward.

Speaking of future posts … let’s get to today’s, shall we?

For some reason, the Monterey Peninsula seems to be crawling with fast old dudes.

I have no idea how our local population stacks up against some other regions of the country, but my suspicion is that they’d fare pretty well. In fact, a handful of our senior athletes have their sights set on breaking a world record at some point in the next several months.

Their exploits, as well as our general awe of the running mentors in our midst, were the topic of our most recent Monterey Herald column. Of course, I can’t entirely shake the whole barefoot kick I’ve been on lately, so there’s a mention of the Tarahumara tribe thrown in, as well as a shout out to one of the most famous elderly runners of all time, with whom I had the honor of sharing a few Dipsea races during the first part of this decade.

Together, they all comprise one of the toughest groups of athletes most of us have ever seen; someday, I hope to follow in all of their footsteps.

Running Life 9/10/09 “Fountain of Youth”

Any runner will tell you that age is just a number. Our local running club has about two dozen members who are in their seventies, many of whom can keep up with the youngsters. The younger runners don’t see this as unusual at all; they know that age doesn’t matter if someone can keep the pace.

Legendary Bay Area runner Jack Kirk ran the fabled Dipsea race in Marin County a record 67 times, up to his most recent finish at age 95. The race starts with a climb up 700 stairs – equivalent to the height of a fifty-story building - before rambling up and down mountainous trails and treacherous terrain for over 7 miles. Kirk once famously said, “You don’t stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running.”

The Tarahumara Indians in the desolate Copper Canyons of the Mexican Sierra Madres are folk heroes of distance running. They reside in caves and adobe huts separated by great distances, and their only means of transportation is running on narrow footpaths up and down the steep canyons. Running is part of their culture, as kids play games where they run up to 100 miles at a time. Amazingly, their civilization knows no heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, depression, or hypertension. Furthermore, many of their best runners are 50 to 60 years old.

The lesson from these stories is this: if you want to be healthy and productive in your golden years, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to get running. It’s like sipping from a fountain of youth.

Our local “older” runners are a great example of this. They make running a daily activity. Instead of talking about ailments and medications, they talk about their next race or next vacation. Many of them are among the fastest seventy plus runners in the country - In fact, four of them will be attempting to break a world record later in the year.

The world record for an age 70-and-over, 4x1500m relay (yes, they keep track of such things) is 27 minutes, 50.22 seconds. This works out to a 6:57.5 minute pace for each mile – and our local runners Rod MacKinlay, Jim Allen, Doug Shankle, and Jay Cook have a real shot at taking the record down. Rod turned 70 on September 1st and has run a 6:20 mile in a recent workout. The four of them will be setting up a certified attempt in December when Jay Cook turns seventy. We wish them luck and will follow their training progress closely.

Our outstanding local septuagenarians aren’t confined to the track, however. Phil Short, who took up distance running at age 60, does about 15 marathons per year, and plans on making his 200th marathon finish at next April’s Big Sur Marathon. Gloria Dake is 76 and has run every one of Big Sur’s 24 previous marathons. Next year will be Gloria’s 25th.

In addition to being great mentors to their younger training partners, all of these great older runners are perfect examples of how the benefits of running are available at any age. Even if you’re in your fifties, sixties, or seventies, it’s never too late to start! The fountain of youth is right before you; feel free to take a sip.

Postscript: if any female readers happen to feel snubbed by the title of the post, or the fact that 95% of the article talks about men, here's a token of my similar respect for you: a ladies' selection from Etta Clark's iconic portraits of senior athletes.

Age well, sisters.


Gretchen 9/19/09, 8:20 AM  

I seriously hope I'm still running in my 80's!

As far as socially conscious companies, I have this cool book called the Better World Shopping Guide which divides things up by categories, then gives a grade to the most popular brands and a bit about why. You can read about it at betterworldshopper.org.

Also check out-




These are all databases of corporations that have to meet certain standards. You can read each site to find out what those standards are.

The limitations of those kinds of sites I think are that companies have to register. I don't know what that process is all about, but I would imagine that most companies who care enough to meet those kinds of guidelines would want to let you know about it.

You can also frequently find information by looking up just the individual company, for example check out the website for Stonyfieldfarm.com. Granted, a company like that is really based on sustainability and the environment, so they're going to market it big time, and for many companies they will say they are "Green" because it's good PR, but don't have much behind it. Still, it's a place to learn something about a company.

Also, as you've discovered, Patagonia rocks in this department, and they are a great resource for education on the improtant issues. They put out super helpful guides, like their guide to shopping for fish. Sounds weird, right? But you know, they're all about ocean health, so it makes sense. And personally I find all the issues with seafood to be baffling, (what's sustainable? what has too much mercury? etc.) so it's awesome to have a guide from a company I trust to break it all down for me.

Anyway...sorry for rambling. Hopefully some of that is new info to you.

Btw, while typing this, I just heard NPR say that the topic for All Things Considered this weekend is "barefoot running." Know anyone who might be interested in that?

Notleh,  9/20/09, 4:24 PM  

That elderly gentleman looks a heck of a lot better than I do now! What an inspiration.

Dori 9/20/09, 9:20 PM  

Old chicks rule! I hope to be running marathons when I'm in my seventies and eighties. But I don't consider 50s as being "senior." >:(

Dori 9/20/09, 9:22 PM  

There's a great book on the subject of the benefits of being an elder athlete. It's called "Younger Next Year" and the female version is cleverly titled, "Younger Next Year for Women."

Anonymous,  9/21/09, 12:34 PM  

If only they had something like this for business.


Anne 9/21/09, 2:32 PM  

I worry that the terms will be co-oped the way "organic" has, making it even more difficult to determine who's a good steward of the land and who's just a much better marketer.

I love the old folks in those photos. Don't we all wish we could age as well as them!

Brian 9/22/09, 4:52 PM  

I like this site:


It is a corporate site (National Geographic) and it does have links to buy stuff, but they maintain a nice firewall:

"All products reviewed by The Green Guide and available for purchase through Evo.com are independently chosen, researched and reviewed by The Green Guide editors. Evo is not informed in advance of publication which products The Green Guide editors are choosing to review, nor are suggestions for products or product categories transmitted from the Evo staff to The Green Guide editors. The Green Guide does not accept or receive payment or consideration by product manufacturers. Because we list manufacturer sugested retail prices, these may differ from prices found at individual retail sites."

The site is easy to use an provides great overviews, recommendations - really actionable information.

Paul Charteris 9/23/09, 2:10 AM  

Caballo Blanco tells the inspiration story of meeting an elderly Tarahumara man on the moutainous trails. A few hours (and 20km later), the old mans walks in to town. Caballo had never met the stranger before but later learns he is almost 100 years old - and can still walk for several hours in one day!

21stCenturyMom 10/5/09, 5:21 PM  

Thanks for further investigating the issue of how to tell what any given company does to ensure they are not using sweat shops and uber polluters.

As for the old folk - I don't think I could qualify for the Senior Games even though I would be in one of the youngest age groups. There are lots of fast senior citizens out.

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