Keeping Minimalism to a Minimum

It was back in the 1930's I believe, when an ad man came upon a great idea to promote his product. He got a crowd of women together and handed out his product and got them to walk down 5th Avenue in New York City while using it. He took pictures of it, got some newspaper friends to call it a March, and to hype the use of the product as support for a Movement. In a few years vast numbers of women used the product to show their association with and support for the public Movement. 

The product was cigarettes, the industry was tobacco. Women's rights was the movement. There never was a link between smoking and support for the women's movement. It was just a marketing ploy that paid great dividends to the tobacco industry and shortened the lives of millions of women. 

In today's world of increasing costs many manufacturers are facing the need to raise prices. Some production costs are making previously used products prohibitively expensive to the average user. The obvious alternative is to trim down the product, and sell less for the same price as the former 'more' product. Of course users are likely to see this and bridle against the reduction in what they have come to expect. In some cases, manufacturers have looked back in history and come across old methodologies for overcoming such resistance. They have come up with the old ploy of branding their products in a way that associates them with a growing movement and makes use of their new products seem edgy and advanced. 

The products I speak of are the new wave of minimalist running gear. The Movement is Ultra Running, and the manufacturers are the same people that brought you more for less just a few years ago. Ground braking 'research', slick ads, a plethora of magazine articles by running pimps and whores, and really neat looking 'gear' have been the method of attack. The major point is to convince the buyer that you not only need to buy less for more, but that it is your best interests, that it improves performance, that it shows you as a leader of the movement, and that if you are going to be among the elite you got to, got to, be out on the trails with this neat new gear. 

Now I'm not saying that all this stuff is crap. But the first generation of most of this 'minimalist' stuff is not great, and there is a lot of crap out there. As an example, I've watched the quality of my shoes decline and suffered injury as a result. Hyped 'minimalist improvements' were just cost cutting reductions. I bought the same brand/style of shoe I had been buying for a few years, and used it. I could not believe it was not the same great shoe, it tore up my knees, and cost me a HURT 100. I would gladly have paid the price increase for the same quality shoe I have run in for years. 

Unfortunately 'minimalism' is becoming pervasive in the ultra running world as manufacturers see a chance to sell less for more. Everyone is hopping on the band wagon and suddenly it is hard to get the 'full' size version of a lot of products. Now, if you are a real ultra running achiever this may be OK. Superior athletic ability may make lighter products an advantage. But, unfortunately you are not likely among that very small group of elite runners. You are NOT like the runners in the ads. You are not like the runners who finish in the top five of a Hundred Miler. You are not even like the guys who win the fifties, or those lesser 'baby' ultras. You are just a plodder, a plunker, an 'I don't DNF' kind of runner. And there is nothing wrong with that because most of us fall into that category. You need to responsibly select your gear based on your needs and abilities, not on some hyped 'really cool' trend. 

The possibility exists that you are one of the growing group of 'Ultra Runners' who specialize in the new 'Sub 20' mile ultra runs where poor gear choices are never really apparent, and where soreness, injury, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances only become a reality after you finish the run. Unfortunately some of you will not heed the warning signs and will suddenly think you are actually ultra runners and will come out and run venues that are truly ultra in character. And you will do so with an attitude and some really bad gear choices. It is fortunate that most training areas are set up with easy 'bail' points, and good stashes of water. The fact is that often those stashes were put in there for emergency purposes and not for regular use. However the new minimalist mentality seems to rely very heavily on others to fulfill unrecognized need. Cool minimalism is often a burden on the responsible who recognize need and safety and plan accordingly. 

As I stated there are some people in our community who are great minimalist runners. I've seen Paul Hopwood go out on an arduous run with half as much on his back as I was carrying. He finished quickly and aside from the fact that he suffered a good bit of hypothermia he seemed no worse for wear. I finished hours behind him, but I wasn't hypothermic and I finished my water and nutrition at the very end of the run. I'm not laughing at Paul, He knows his limits, just as I know mine, but he has come upon these after many long hard ultra length runs. He can shave his requirements to a minimum because he has tested himself often on very rugged ultra length runs. He understands that ability determines gear, not the reverse. You can not be a Paul Hopwood by acting like him, you can only get your ass in a boat load of trouble. Paul can wear a pair of light shoes, carry a single water bottle and run like the wind. If I did that I would not make it five miles down the trail. You, likely fall somewhere in between, but closer to disaster than to success. 

Minimalism is a sham. Minimalism is a marketing ploy to sell less for more. Minimalism is a parasitic activity on the backs of the responsible. Minimalism is a viral concept that most often leads to injury. If you are going to practice this concept without first doing a lot of long hard learning then please, at a minimum, do it at a maximum distance from those who are truly devoted to the activity of ultra running in Hawaii.

Aloha, Mikem.