Social reproduction of two ex-Ironman triathletes: Why our kids like sports

Our family has fun working out together.

This morning, after the kids and hubby left for school and office, I was thinking what a wonderfully wacky and athletic family we have.  Our kids, a 14-year old son and 11-year old daughter, actually wanted to get up at dark-thirty (in multisport terms that means “pre-dawn” which was 5:15 this morning) and hit the gym with their parents.  This isn’t every morning and usually my son sleeps in until the last possible moment before school or friends or sports drags him away from dreamland. I asked him why he wanted to get up so early. It was still dark! “It would be a fun way to start the day,” he said. “The jacuzzi and a swim just sounds so good right now.” Similar response from our daughter: she likes to get her workouts “done in the morning.” She’s been running regularly since last Thanksgiving and she joined the local club cross-country team this Fall.

Our kids think that running and working out every day is normal.

I think that is so cool.

But why do they like sports so much when some of their friends seem to be allergic to sea water, “hate running,” and couldn’t stay on a skateboard un-assisted for longer a second?

Pierre Bourdieu, a French anthropologist,  said the goal of a family, culturally speaking, is “social reproduction”. Whether it is our conscious intention or not, our kids repeat our lives in one way or another.

Social reproduction: Praxa and doxa

In An Outline of a Theory of Practice, Bourdieu’s ethnography of the indigenous Kabyle tribesmen of Algeria, Bourdieu explains his materialist (socioeconomic) and post-modern social theories within the context of interpreting Kabyle cultural practices (Bourdieu 1977:vii).  In particular, Bourdieu makes a decisive break from his French structuralist predecessors by analyzing the human agency and strategy behind the practices of his Kabyle informants, or, what Bourdieu calls their culture’s assembled practices or praxis. Bourdieu believed that “society is constructed by purposeful, creative agents” who create their culture “through talk and action” (Erickson 2008:187). He believed that a cultural group or a society is united in “systems of relationships” and praxis and that have a natural order or “orthodoxy” that is promoted by the dominant group or authority. He calls this cultural authority, it’s doxa (Bourdieu 1977:169).

Our family is a prime example of what happens when two athletic ex-Ironman triathletes have kids.

Our family praxis is based on working out together. There are usually workout clothes and sports equipment somewhere on the floor of our house, water bottles on the kitchen counters, HEED and Cytomax tubs in the cupboards and wet suits and beach towels drying in the tree by the backdoor. We “play” every day. Nearly, every day since they were born our kids have seen Mom and Dad leave the house for a run, swim, bike, surf or do some other physical activity, alone or with friends. By watching us, they’ve learned that working out is fun and makes them feel good afterwords. With friends, it’s like a playdate. Soccer, rugby, swimming, taekwando, running, and junior lifeguards, our kids have been on a competitive team of some kind since kindergarten. When not competing, they are usually doing some sport just for fun like surfing, playing around on their skateboards or riding their bikes around town with their friends. Working out is just part of our family’s daily praxis. It is a part of our daily routine like brushing our teeth is in the morning.

Our kids have seen their mother push herself to try qualify for Boston and have their seen their father race the Big Sur Trail Marathon with the flue. (He survived fine thank goodness. We figured he scared the flu right out of him with that run–the old “in-hospitable host” theory of flu recovery).  They have also seen their parents go back to school and take entrepreneurial risks so they can be more competitive professionally and happier personally. We have had set-backs, been injured, and have bad days like everyone else, but pushing ourselves physically and mentally is a positive value in our family’s doxa.

If all of that sounds too good to be true, I don’t blame you for thinking that.  But how did we get our kids to join us working out? How did we get them to not rebel against a parental and cultural hegemony that extols a healthy and athletic lifestyle?

They gotta wanna

I think it is, in part, just as Bourdieu said: social reproduction. Our kids are only mirroring what we are doing every day. If they saw us read, compose songs, drink a lot of beer with our friends, or work longer hours instead of working out in the outdoors–they would probably seek and mirror those behaviors instead.

But I also think their choices are due to our high expectations and use of constant positive re-enforcement.  We don’t make them go running with us because it’s healthy, we encourage them because it’s fun. We ask them to just give a sport a try for one season, and if they don’t like it, they don’t have to do it again.

The key is for us to encourage our kids to try new things, to  do their best, and to have fun.

Our daughter just started running regularly last year. Before that she really wasn’t in to sports. It was our idea when she was younger that she try soccer, Junior Lifeguards, and taekwando. Now, it’s her idea to go running and workout at the gym.

Our son got into soccer,  taekwando, and running, initially, because it was our idea. Now he runs and plays rugby because it is his idea. We tell our kids, “Just try it for one season. Do your best. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it next year.” If they don’t like a sport, that’s fine. It is important that they know that we are on their side.

It is also about those old fashioned words of parenting that I remember hearing when I grew up: “Just try it,” “Don’t quit,” and “Do your best.”  With the grueling cross-country races our kids have been enduring lately, our advice has been even more empathetic, “I know it’s hotter than hell out here and it sucks. Just do your best.” and “Don’t listen to that guy.  Just do your best.”  And, most importantly, and simply, “I’m so proud of you.”

The key for me is to make sure our kids’ main motivation is internal. They have to want to do well to really excel and be true competitors. They have really believe in themselves. As my old Masters swim coach in San Diego used to say, “You gotta wanna.”  Empathy coupled with high expectations are important values in our family doxa.

Old School

My childhood experience was not particularly athletic. As an admittedly non-athletic artist and family iconoclast who preferred books and horses to bicycles and health clubs, my single-parent mother  couldn’t relate to my desire to run the trails after school when I was a teenager. Or, to learn surfing, on my own, when I was 19. My mom didn’t even know how to swim. But to her credit, she always encouraged me and cheered me on  at dozens of cross-country races in high school and drove me to many a 5K and 10K race on the weekends. She allowed me to hang out at the beach, it seemed, nearly every single weekday, during the summer. She even bought me my first triathlon racing bike, a Specialized Allez, when I was in college. I rode that bike all over San Diego country in my twenties and decorated it with my product sponsor’s stickers. I heard “I’m so proud of you” a lot from her when it came to racing.

I’m an old school runner and triathlete. When I started racing, it wasn’t cool for girls to be a competitive runner. It was unusual. I was the only girl I knew to enter the first Los Angeles Marathon in 1986. My college training buddies were a Phi Delt and a Sigma Chi who were in my advanced running class. I think I was the only girl in that class, too. That first marathon was only two years after the first Olympic woman’s marathon ever at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. I did my first triathlon in 1987 as one of the few women in my age group and one of the few people who even knew what a triathlon was it seemed. I taught myself how to swim freestyle in Mission Bay in San Diego – trying to keep up with my roommate who grew up with a pool. Eventually, I found my way to the slow lane and some coaching at a local Swim Masters club in La Jolla. On the bike, I would train Dave Scott-style, usually alone, with a ziplock bag of Fig Newtons, a baked potato or a PB&J, stuffed into a fanny pack for long road rides and a bottle of water.  My training pals were usually athletic college students or young people trying to make money in the outdoor sports industry.

It’s an endurance sport culture

Nowadays, there are packs of brightly colored and jerseyed road cyclists all over our local highways each weekend morning. Nearly every town has their own running club, triathlon team and local Masters swim program.  Most of the multisport athletes, it seems are middle aged professionals. The doxa of American sport culture has changed since the days when I was a kid. Marathons, triathlons, and lately long-distance trail running (“racing ultras”) have gone mainstream (Helliker 2010).  Today there are about 1.2 million triathletes in the United States, up 51% from 2007, and according to last Sunday’s New York Times article, a third of them are men in their 40s (Gardner 2010). A few weeks ago, the Boston marathon sold out in less than eight hours. The proportion of women racing marathons have grown from 10% of the field in 1980 to 41% in 2009 (Running USA 2010). “Marathoning has soared in popularity in the United States. In 1976, 25,000 Americans finished marathons, according to Running USA. Last year, there were a record 467,000 American marathon finishers,” according to The Boston Globe on October 18th (Pepin 2010).

Our kids are turning out athletic like us. And, it appears to be national trend. Those wacky multisport events called “triathlons” and long-distance races we did in our younger years are conventional now. “Training for Ironman is the new golf!” an old Ironman training pal and multisport retail shop owner told me the other day, rolling his eyes.

I’m so grateful that both of our kids like doing endurance sports.  It has been so fun to workout together–as a family. I’m going to enjoy it as long as it lasts.

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Resources

Bourdieu, Pierre, 1977 An Outline of a Theory of Practice, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, Pp.248.

Gardner, Ann Marie 2010 “Triathletes, Swim, Bike and Run for Youth,” New York Times, October 24, 2010, R12.

Helliker, Kevin 2010, “Making marathons even tougher,” Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2010; Retrieved on October 26, 2010, from: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703960004575427561884547420.html

Pepin, Matt 2010 “Boston Marathon sells out in a day,” The Boston Globe, October 18, 2010; Retrieved on October 26, 2010, from: http://www.boston.com/sports/marathon/blog/2010/10/boston_marathon_sells_out_in_a.html

Running USA 2010 “Running USA’s Annual Marathon Report,” Running USA; Retrieved on October 26, 2010, from: http://www.runningusa.org/node/57770

Dealing with Plantar Faciitis, review of article about barefoot running & less is more running shoes

“Barefoot Running: Not just for bums and hippies”, is a well-researched blog article found at runningquest.net. It’s an excellent source of news about the new discourse in the running community about the benefits of running barefoot or with “less is more” minimal running shoes.

The trend seems to be inspired by the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougal that came out earlier this year. The book documents the author’s search for a cure for his nagging running injuries including the dreaded plantar faciitis (PF) that has ended running for many. The “Barefoot Running…” article’s author Clynton expounds on the McDougal’s findings about barefoot running, the running shoe industry marketing shoes known to be bad for running efficiency, and current articles. He also, very nicely and responsibly, cites his sources. (I love that!)

According to Clynton the benefits of running barefoot are these:
1. Shock absorption: Barefoot running makes you run using the body’s natural shock absorption system by landing mid-foot while conventional running shoes force you to land on your heals which is damaging [my paraphrase]
2. Lighter Strike: Landing more lightly on your feet happens naturally barefoot [my paraphrase]
3. Muscle Strength: Your feet become stronger and more resilient to injury when running barefoot [my paraphrase]

What I also found useful were his several reviews of minimalist running shoes such as the Nike Free racing flats and Vibram Five Fingers shoes.

I used to run barefoot on the beach in my twenties as an undergrad at SDSU. I felt better, more free, and lighter running barefoot than plodding along on the concrete bike along the beach in my big running shoes. I had sore calves after my barefoot runs, but that was it.

Flash forward 20 years with 2 kids, 2 great careers (one in sales, other in web design) and current grad student & PT web designer …

Bare with me on this, but I believe that our occupation, which effect the movements we do every day habitually, is directly connected to our fitness. My occupation, unfortunately, requires me to sit on my butt for hours–all day sometimes–and that is not conducive to being physically fit.

I‘m not running now because of a nagging case of the dreaded plantar faciitis injury. The facia, a tendon that acts as a shock absorbing and flexible band runs from my heal to my forefoot, is badly strained and inflamed. (See drawing at the left of the Plantar Fascia from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons helpful web site.) This is the the same injury that prompted author Christopher McDougal to write his book Born to Run.

To figure out how to recover from this cursed injury, my research included the above mentioned web site, several other web sites I found via Google, and two peer-reviewed articles written by physicians (that I found online via CSUN’s library with my student access), and this very helpful little book that I found on Amazon.com: Injury Afoot: 30 things You Can Do to Relieve Heel Pain and Speed Healing of Plantar Faciitis by Patrick Hafner. It seems that my case of plantar faciitis comes from a combination of variables:

1. Weak feet. At the time of injury I was sitting all day and doing short “maintenance” jogs 3-4x week–no more than 45 minutes long each.
2. Wearing heavily structured and cushioned running shoes; In my case it was the NB 1223) during my sleep-deprived grad school semesters (sleep deprivation inhibits tissue repair, etc)
2. Tight calves from inadequate stretching (because I was always in a hurry to get my run in),
3. Weak abdominal muscles (probably from sitting hunched over a compooper all day (miss-spelling of “computer” is intentional!)
4. Walking around in stiff/arch-free flipflops all day (we live at the beach) which further caused my foot muscles to atrophy
5. A dramatic increase in my weekend long runs in a couple of weeks (from 5 miles to 14 miles–more than double) when I joined our local running club in November 2008.
6. Ignoring the nagging pain in my left foot PF for months, favoring my right foot which did two things: (1) made my injury worse and (2) gave me another injury: hip bursitis on my right side. This was probably caused by subtly shifting my weight off my left injured foot to my right foot. So, I came down with two injuries by December 2008 and by May 2009 I could not walk without extreme pain, on both sides of my body and suffered from lower back pain. How dumb is that? See where ignoring the obvious gets you? Don’t do what I did!

So, unlike Clynton’s article implies, my case of PF is due to more than atrophied foot muscles and tendons caused by over-structured expensive running shoes, it was my lifestyle too. However, I believe those shoes contributed my weaker arches in general and, eventually, plantar faciitis. But not by themselves.

I thought my years of racing and “muscle memory” could carry me through the jump in miles. I’ve done 20 marathons and used to train mostly on hilly trails. As an out of shape and older grad student, road runner and web developer, my “old school” attitude that training intelligently was for beginners, got a rude smack down by the reality of my current state of fitness. I had forgotten the miles and months it used to take me to get in good running shape when I was younger.

Right now I’m walking (not running) around in a new pair of NB 1224s with Superfeet insoles for high arches nearly all my waking hours. Even with dresses. Not very flattering but I figure it’s my version of foot cast. It allows the plantar facia to heal and, unfortunately, atrophy. I’m no longer in pain with I walk but the tenderness is there and I have to be very careful and slow with my feet strengthening exercises and walking barefoot right now–or I’m back to square one.

(1) My Everything-but-the-kitchen sink Plantar Faciitis Treatment Plan:

• Ice pack treatment 2x/day (no longer than 10 minutes each per my doctor friend)
• Ibuprofen when there’s arch/heel pain/inflammation (per my retired PT friend)
• Wearing shoes with archsupports such as SuperFeet all the time–even at the beach (this really was not fun at the Hurley US Open Surf Championship two weeks ago!)–per my graduate adviser at CSUN who suffered from PF
• Heal rises: positive 3 sets of 20 and negative (off a step) to exhaustion, every other day
• Stretching my calves, hamstrings, glutes–everything every day
• Cross-training once or twice (if I’m lucky) a day by swimming, cycling, core workouts, elliptical workout, or weight training
• Survive a pain and straight-talk session once a month with my gifted and no-nonsense Rolfer who keeps repeating “Don’t run for two months!” (I just repeat his words over and over again when I’m tempted to skip..errr… I really mean run… down the beach a bit after an open water swim or when I’m with the kids).
Wearing a night splint (which keeps my arch stretched while sleeping), etc.

If you suffer from Plantar Faciitis, the book Injury Afoot: 30 things You Can Do to Relieve Heel Pain and Speed Healing of Plantar Faciitis may help you with it’s plan to get rid of it. So far, when I follow that little book’s steps for healing and strengthening exercises, my foot is pain-free.

(2) As soon as my PF is healed, the plan is for me to return to barefoot running on the beach to strengthen my feet. Gradually–just mile or two at first. I’ve come to realize, during this injury, that my body needs more than muscle memory to get conditioned, especially at my age.

That being said, my footwear plan:

(1) I will get a pair of Vibram FFs. They fit my feet fine and the weird factor is kinda cool in my book. I like them. They crack me up! Also, I think Barefoot Ted (from book Born to Run) is on to something.

(2) For road running I also have a pair of Brooks Cascadia 4 trail running shoes that I got just before my PF injury got too painful to run. I like them, too, and I feel that my foot can flex more naturally while wearing them. I heard that Scott Jurek designed them. Maybe he added some magical running powers to their design. I need it.

(3) I don’t think I will go back to wearing conventional running shoes. But, then when marathon training on concrete and asfault I’m not sure if the Vibrams and trail running shoes will adequately protect my feet from injury. I’m waiting to hear more and may purchase a pair of racing flats for this reason in the future. I was considering the Nike Free or a NB racing flat (if they have one) but I’m kinda pissed off at Nike and coventional running shoe companies right now for inventing and marketing the over-structured/padded running shoes that contributed to my running injury in the first place. I still don’t know what to get.

Please comment and keep me updated on your own barefoot running or “less is more” running experiences! And, feel free to offer any “less is more” running shoe tips.

🙂