Tariffs and the high cost of running shoes

It’s no secret that running shoes are cheaper in the United States than in Canada, but a bit of light as to why came out today in, of all things, a business story on tariffs. CBC News published an analysis of how a 2013 decision to raise tariffs coming into effect January 1st, 2015 could cause a price increase in everything from toothbrushes to bikes.

That particular budget decision covers tariff on items from 72 countries, including China, Mexico and Indonesia. Clearly, the intent is to protect Canada from a flood of cheap imports, but CBC suggested consumers will cover the cost of the tariffs rather than manufacturers or retailers.

It appears this most recent round of tariffs came out of an examination over the Canada-U.S. price gap at a time when the Canadian dollar was close to or on par with American currency.

Mike Moffatt, an economist and assistant professor at Western University’s Ivey Business School in London, Ontario, told CBC the factors that cause Canadians to pay more than Americans are tariffs, energy costs, taxes, payroll taxes and minimum wages.

Moffatt opined that reversing the scheduled tariff costs for January 1st would be one way the federal government could lower prices. Furthermore, he suggested that the government could reduce tariffs all around.

So what’s this got to do with the cost of running shoes?

Moffatt singled out running shoes as one of the high tariffs currently in place at close to 20 per cent. “There are still very high tariffs on running shoes,” he told the CBC.

So what, you shrug. That’s the cost of doing business globally. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way.

That 20 per cent tariff on running shoes has a large ripple effect. When Canadian runners attend marathons in the United States, they invariably come home with two or three pairs of shoes from the marathon expo or U.S. stores. Why? Because they’re cheaper.

Or, alternatively, they look to the Internet for their shoe purchases.

The immediate impact of that is felt locally. In Halifax, for example, those shoe purchases which seem like such great bargains because they circumvent the Canadian tariff conceivably take business away from a local retailer such as Aerobics First.

Secondly, those same tariffs may discourage some parents from picking up running shoes for themselves or their families. They simply might not have the discretionary income. At a time when obesity has turned into a major health crisis, anything that can be done to promote physical activity should be encouraged. If that means eliminating a tariff that is a financial barrier to many individuals, then so be it.

Thirdly, those tariffs are offloaded on you, the consumer. That supposedly protectionist policy discourages consumer spending and promotes an inflationary environment that could undermine consumer confidence and spark fears of a recession.

Moffatt says the political will is lacking to reduce tariffs because it provides a source of revenue for the government. Canada’s industry minister, James Moore, countered and said that the government has to react to world markets and pressures.

Perhaps a better way to do that might be to forego the relatively small revenue from tariffs (CBC pegged the new tariff to be worth $300 to $350-million to the government) and concentrate on bolstering Canada’s economy to withstand some of the pressure from the world’s markets.

Is $350-million in revenue worth gutting local retailers and bogging down Canadians with less spending power? I would suggest not. Eliminating the unnecessary tariffs on items like running shoes and clothing would go a long way to instilling greater confidence in the Canadian economy.

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The Sunday Read: Run, drink, repeat

The beer mile comes of age

The beer mile, once a rogue race to see who not only had the strongest legs and lungs but also stomachs, has gone mainstream. As Todd Balf documents in his feature for Outside (http://bit.ly/12BjUpW) the beer mile owes its popularity to – what else? – social media. After one runner posted a video that garnered over a million hits, everyone wanted to run and ralph. Incidentally, the modern beer mile has its roots in Canada. Balf notes that it was a cross-country team at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario who set the rules which today govern the event and which are known as the Kingston rules. 

These shoes will make you fly

We’ve seen all kinds of nifty shoes in the last decade, including several attempts to employ various propulsion devices to make runners faster. Hello? Did someone just say Adidas Springblades? Now a US$180 shoe called the Ambla Fly offers a carbon fibre hinged sole that is supposed to provide that extra bit of push to get you to the finish line that much faster…supposedly. Deadspin (http://bit.ly/15XWQnM) a good deal of fun mocking the science behind the shoe, but they’ll regret their hubris once they see top marathoners like Meb running in the Ambla Fly…or not.

Coolsaet on cool weather running

The Weather Network, that long-time purveyor of running news, interviews Reid Coolsaet about winter running (http://bit.ly/1y8cAjJ). You’ll learn nothing you already didn’t know, but get to see a couple of cool clips of Coolsaet running. What? You wanted more? This isn’t Running Competitor.com (http://bit.ly/1jw3QbZ), you know.

Shoes. That’s all

Speaking of Running Competitor (http://bit.ly/1jw3QbZ), they’ve got the goods on 25 new shoes for spring and summer 2015. Oh, I know that seems endless months away – it’s not even Christmas, for Pete’s sakes! But I also know you can’t help yourself and you’ll look at each and every pair and analyze and parse them every which way. Overall, the trail offerings look more interesting than the road shoes. But wait! Look! There’s the Ambla Fly! You’d better rush out and grab a pair of those puppies now.

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The Sunday Read: Living the dream – and more

Do more of what you love: running

Megan Stewart, 51, is broke but happy. The New Zealand woman entered the Four Deserts (http://www.4deserts.com/) race series, running the four ultra-marathons over the same number of years. Most recently she returned from the Antarctica, where she ran the US$12,000 race. “I’m lucky, poor but lucky,” she told the Tarnaki Daily News Online. “I lived the dream.” There’s not a whole lot more to the story than that, which you can read here: http://bit.ly/1pcrqlR But the take-away is we can guess that Stewart has risked a lot to do what she loves, and that’s inspiration in and of itself.

New Zealand teen burns rubber

Okay, now that we got all soppy about the above story over at Sub-three, here’s one about guts, determination and…shoes. A New Zealand (this is coincidence; we’re not avidly reading New Zealand media at the moment) teenager may make us reconsider footwear race choices after he ran a half-marathon in 1:23:03…in a pair of Crocs. That’s no crock! He lost his runners before the race, so used the widely loathed rubber clogs to battle his way to 10th place. The jury is still out as to whether these are minimal or maximal shoes. And no word on whether there’s any truth to the rumour that Nike plans to manufacture a line of Air Crocs. The story is here: http://bit.ly/1uTZqTr

Saving lives…or complicating them?

Every year several runners collapse during races from a heart problem – and many die. Another instance just occurred in Hamilton during the annual Road2Hope Marathon. (http://bit.ly/1tuQH9H). Amidst that backdrop and the ongoing debate over running and whether it contributes to the risk of death from heart disease, Outside Magazine publishes a comprehensive piece on heart screening and why it’s controversial. According to a source in the article: “Advanced screenings are costly, have a high rate of false positives, and can lead to invasive—and risky—procedures.” The source?  Dr. Barry Maron, lead author of the Heart Association’s new screening guidelines. It’s a fascinating piece that partially argues that  well-meaning doctors often end up complicating runners’ lives with tests suggesting a heart issue, but which can lead to tests and operations that might actually cause as many problems as the problem they’re meant to solve. Learn more here: http://bit.ly/11pdydh

Marathon times decrease while short distance records lag

Finally, I know you’ve been staying awake nights wondering why marathon records are falling while 5 and 10 km times are remaining static. In the interests of helping you sleep better, Runner’s World has compiled some answers to that burning question. For example, the incentive of prize money – that’s right, baby, pure hard cash – could be motivating some of the shorter distance runners to go long. But that’s not the only reason and you can find out more here: http://bit.ly/1xIbJ7Z

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On injuries

If runners love to discuss any one topic more than running, it’s injuries. At the first sign of a twinge or niggle, we suddenly become – thanks to the Internet – experts on any and every injury going, its diagnosis and its treatment.

I recently spent 17 weeks with plantar, a subject I’m actually well-acquainted with, thanks to having had it before. In fact, when I began Sub-three in February 2012, it was with the intent of documenting my attempt to drive my marathon time down below three hours. Instead, the first day I started writing I developed a case of plantar that lasted for 11 weeks. I went on to publish not only several blog posts about my injury, but ended up researching and writing an article for one of the running magazines on the topic as well.

In other words, just like every other runner, I obsessed over my pain. This time though I needed not so much to overcome it as to learn to accept and live with it. And that meant stop running.

Well, you can imagine how easy that was: stop running? No problem – for a day or two. I’d take three or four days off and then run again and, inevitably, at four kilometres find myself hobbling along.

I became a ronner, not a runner.

Oh, what’s a ronner, you ask? Well, I have a friend named Ron whom time has not favoured. In recent years he’s developed a chronic injury for which he can find no relief.  On our running group’s Saturday route, we generally run Halifax’s waterfront and dockyards. At a certain point along the dockyards is a tunnel which connects the waterfront to the bottom of Barrington Street and is a convenient short-cut to the run’s ending point if one is fatigued…or injured.

Ron took the tunnel enough that he joked he was Ronning. The tag stuck. With the plantar tearing my foot apart every time I decided to test it on a run, I soon began ronning as well. In fact, because I ended up taking the tunnel on at least one occasion with Ron I suggested that ronning might be viral, spreading from runner to runner, causing injuries to bloom inside the most healthy athletic specimens.

But I digress.

As runners, we are our own worst enemies. Hooked on the activity, slaves to the endorphins, the schedule and the social pleasure, we resist the inevitable rest necessary for the proper healing. Instead, we push through. And so I did, again and again, re-injuring myself over and over, constantly aggravating micro-tears and in the process causing unnecessary pain.

Runners are used to suffering. We embrace it. To successfully run a personal best in any distance, you learn to dial out the signals from your brain, which protest the pace, the strain and the taxing of the lungs and legs. It’s a fact that running involves, more than physical effort, training the governor in your mind that your body won’t shut down when you place the undue stress of racing on it. Because of that, we become very good at ignoring pain.

That same mind-set leads to denial. Timothy Noakes, in the runner’s Bible, The Lore of Running, notes: “Complete rest is unacceptable to most serious runners, because running involves a type of physical and emotional dependence. An athlete who is forced to stop running for any length of time will usually develop overt withdrawal symptoms and either the runner, or, not uncommonly, the runner’s spouse, will immediately commence the search for anything that will allow the distraught runner to return to the former running tranquility.”

Pretty funny stuff, eh? Not if you’re the injured runner.

Ultimately frustrated, I turned to mountain biking, road biking, spinning, kayaking, hiking – anything that would provide some sort of physical outlet. Almost all of it was enjoyable and none of it satisfied my craving to run. Enviously, I tracked friends’ races, bitter that I couldn’t participate, and suddenly with all kinds of new time on my hands tried to find ways to fill it.

Toward the end of the summer, one friend remarked on how many books I’d read. Yes, it’s amazing what you can do when you’re not on the road hour after hour training for the next race. Being injured was like being on an extended taper, with all the attendant madness. Just how do you fill up all those hours of the day, anyway? I had to train myself not to manically post endlessly on Facebook.

Most of my “friends” vanished. All those people you socialize when you run? If running is your only or main connection, don’t expect to hear from them. They’re too busy running. Working at home, running composed my social life, and that vanished, leaving me with…crickets.

Your body changes. I continued to eat and drink like a runner. Then one day you look in the mirror and it’s even less pretty than usual. That’s despite all the other exercise. Nothing burns fat like running.

Rage, resentment, disappointment – none of it serves any purpose ultimately. Finally, you arrive at a state of grace, of gratitude. You learn to embrace and live with your injury, to forego your previous lifestyle of anticipating the run, getting ready for the run, running the run, and decompressing and recapping the run after the run. (Think about it: I’m willing to bet most runners do everything I just listed.)

I learned to let running go. I began to love my bike rides. Much as when I was a child, I lost myself in books. I spent a lot of time wandering in the wilderness of our half-acre backyard with my two dogs, playing with them, watching them run, observing the birds, and looking out over the distant bay. You’ve heard of slow food? I was having a slow life.

I contemplated never running again.

Right about that point where I released running from my life, my foot felt better.

To heal my plantar, I rolled my foot on frozen water bottles, had my foot and the calf muscle stripped in painful massage sessions, used the dreaded sock – a device that hauled my foot toward my calf and which, inevitably, every night I tore off in the middle of the night – heated my foot and calf,  hydrated, rested and did everything else conceivable to fix the problem.

Yet one part of me wonders, if running hard is as much mental as physical, a training of your governor to withstand pain, then at what point does your mind heal your body? So long in coming, my acceptance of my injury coincided with its diminishing. Perhaps to overcome injury, we need to meet it on its terms and listen to what it has to tell us.

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The mayor and the sprinter

In early April, the media had a field day when Toronto Mayor Rob Ford announced that disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson was going to be a part of his campaign team as he went after re-election.  Along with a minor bit part actor from the cable series, The Trailer Park Boys, Johnson showed up at a media conference for the mayor, but had very little to say. 

The newspapers and broadcast news fussed about the optics of Johnson joining forces with Ford; after all, here was the big city mayor labouring under a drug scandal. And now standing tall beside him was a sprinter who for three days appeared to have been the fastest man in the world until the Olympic committee stripped Johnson of  his gold medal for doping in his 100-metre race against American Carl Lewis at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. 

No one bothered to ask why Ford would want to associate with Johnson, particularly given the fact the sprinter became a national disgrace for his use of steroids during the games.

Of course, at this point, the media is happy to report on any move Ford makes with very little analysis. But why Johnson? A city mayoral campaign is, excuse the analogy, much more of a marathon than a sprint. Maybe Ford was trying to drive home a point about having a strong finishing kick, but I don’t actually think that’s why Johnson is involved.

Rather, when reporters were questioning the “optics” of Johnson’s involvement, they were on the right track without even realizing it. Back in late January, a video surfaced of Ford at a fast food restaurant in Toronto “swearing, mumbling and speaking in Jamaican patois,” according to CBC News.

The public broadcaster reported that Ford attempted to use a Jamaican swear word four times and questioned him as to whether his use of the accent was offensive. Ford told CBC, “I met some friends. If I speak that way, that’s how I speak with some of my friends and no, I don’t think it’s discriminative at all.”

According to sports journalist Richard Moore in his definitive book on the 1988 Johnson-Lewis match titled The Dirtiest Race in History, Johnson “suffered slurs and innuendo about his intelligence” later in life. But Moore notes the sprinter’s teachers called him “average.” In school, in Toronto, the Jamaican-born sprinter was placed in classes for slow learners, but Moore points out Johnson not only had a heavy accent, but stuttered. The latter may be one of the reasons why Johnson had little to say at the recent news conference.

It doesn’t matter. Johnson didn’t need to say anything. Only his presence was required. Ford’s labouring under a lot of pressure in the current mayoralty race and his handlers may be looking for any kind of edge. Again, though, why would Ford decide that a sprinter who had his Olympic gold medal rescinded because of his use of drugs would be a good choice to stand next to him? It could be Ford or his handlers thought the presence of a famous, heck, an infamous, Jamaican friend might help diffuse at least one of the issues of recent months: Ford’s late-night mumbling in a Jamaican accent. LookMayor Ford really does have friends – and at least one of them is Jamaican, so that legitimises that entire episode.

Or, maybe it’s just another one of Ford’s wacky ideas, like suddenly jetting off to Hollywood for the Oscars to network, even though Toronto’s film commissioner and others knew nothing of the idea and no previous agenda had been planned.

There’s also an interesting side note to all of this. Last November, news broke that Ford’s new personal fitness trainer was convicted in the U.S. for steroid trafficking and is currently in the midst of a 12-year ban from coaching in Canada for administering steroids, according to the National Post.

Whatever the reason for Ford parading out Johnson, it’s certainly one of the oddest pairings ever seen in the history of track and field and does’t seem very likely to give the mayor an edge on his competitors. 


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Rumours of my blog’s death are greatly exaggerated

Hi. Remember me? Subthree? Probably not. It’s been awhile since I wrote here. But back in the day (that would be about two months ago, but you know how time flies in the digital era) I was like Nirvana. You’d cry: “Entertain us!” And I did.

Okay, I wasn’t precisely like Nirvana. I was more like a Nirvana cover band. Well, a really, really bad Nirvana cover band. Um, well, really like a Nirvana cover band that was so terrible that the fact they were trying to play Nirvana was more or less impossible to tell.

Anyway...I used to do shoe reviews and write clever things – well, moderately funny; okay – geez! – stuff I found amusing and you’d all laugh at me instead of with me…well, what I’m trying to say is, I’m back to be laughed at again.

Uh, that didn’t quite come out right.

Subthree is back.

There. You know, it’s not so easy to write a clean sentence. That’s what I always loved about Elmore Leonard’s writing. He made it look simple. I once interviewed him in an Edmonton hotel room. He was a happy grandfather from Detroit who loved to play tennis and write about psychopaths.

But this isn’t about Leonard. Rather, I’m putting you folks on notice that Subthree is returning, with more gear reviews, more running highlights, more race reports than before.

So where was I, you wondered? (Actually, I know that you didn’t wonder once, but every now and again – okay, all the time – I like to flatter myself.)

I’ve been running. Not as much. And writing on the blog even less. After my marathon in August, my running became lacklustre again for a number of months. As readers of this blog know, I experimented with some different training methods and ultimately decided to return to what feels good.

Imagine that! Training by what feels good. That’s crazy!

I’ve been working out at the track once a week, where I like to show everyone up with my dazzling speed. My coach is very encouraging: “Get the lead out! You’re killing me and ruining my reputation. Only a dying worm could run slower than you!”

I know coaches are hard on their athletes in order to push them to new heights, so I eagerly soak up all of the aforementioned advice and wisdom. I’ll write some more about track experiences soon.

In terms of the writing, I’ve had to produce large volumes for my work, sometimes as much as five sentences a day. That proved to be a drain to my creative energy and something had to give. Unfortunately, it was the blog.

But the good news is I’ve managed to get my workload down to a more manageable level: seven or eight words daily. Therefore, I anticipate catching up on gear reviews and once again rejoining the world of writing runners. Or should that be running writers? Regardless, welcome back.

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In which I train for the Fanfit Challenge

Today I discovered that I’d made the cut for the Run Nova Scotia team for the Fanfit Challenge. That’s right: the members of Run Nova Scotia apparently took a vote, asking, which among all of the members is the slowest and therefore would make the rest of us look good by comparison?

That’s right! They picked me. I’m so honoured.

Just what is the Fanfit Challenge, you might wonder? It’s actually a great event taking place at the Canada Games Centre in Halifax and it’s open to spectators. The challenge pairs teams of amateur athletes with Olympic and aspiring Olympic athletes who coach the teams through five events. 

The entry fees help support the athletes as they prepare for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The athletes include para athletics sprinter Jackie Marciano, cyclist Stuart Wright and sprint kayaker Genevieve Orton. The Run Nova Scotia Team’s coach is 800 metre runner Celia Peters. 

Peters won the 2013 open women’s race at the MACPASS Bridge Mile in a time of 5:02.

The five events Peters will coach us through as we compete against other teams and athletes are 2000 metres on a rowing machine, 5,000 metres on a spin bike, a 10-metre strength pull, a pro agility sprint test, and a 3,000 metre track run.

Given that the event is this Saturday, I figured I’d better get training. So despite the fact that a raging blizzard was under way, dumping some 20 centimetres of snow amidst howling winds, I put my running shoes on and prepared to do a long run while dragging a truck tire behind me. 

That’s what they call cross-fit, right?

The only problem was, when I got outside – with the hard pellets of snow whipping against my face, which the wind was practically peeling off anyway – I realized I didn’t have a truck tire.

That was easily solved. I stood in the middle of my street for about an hour. And to those who are patient, good things come. In this instance, it was the snow plow. 

The enormous truck almost sheared sideways as the driver slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting me in the middle of the road. Clearly agitated, he opened his door and began to yell at me, and climbed down from his truck. Unfortunately, in the chase that ensued, he slipped and knocked his head on the ice. 

He wasn’t the lightest fella ever. It took me about 15 minutes to haul him up my driveway and dump him in my garage. But hey, I thought, great training for the 10-metre strength pull.

For the next hour I worked at trying to get the left rear wheel off the truck. It wasn’t easy. The wheel nuts had frozen in place and I had resort to a blow torch to unfreeze them. Plus I was worried that any time now the driver would regain conciousness and then I’d get some quality training in for the 3,000 metre run, for sure!

When I finally had the wheel removed from the truck, it was a simple bit of business to loop some rope around it and then fasten the rope, harness-like, around my shoulders. I lunged forward into the blistering wind and promptly felt my feet go from under me. Next thing I knew I was sitting on the road in considerable pain. Obviously, the tire weighed a little more than I originally thought.

That was it! I’d had enough training for one night.

I returned to the garage just in time to see buddy coming around. “Nasty spill, you had there, fella,” I told him. “Do you recall what happened?”

Confused, he looked at me. “Nah. I can’t remember a thing. One minute, I’m driving my plow and the next here I am?”

I said, “That’s grea…uh, tough. Don’t you worry now, as soon as this storm dies down, we’ll get you to where you can receive some proper medical care.”

Well now, what a night of training that was! I’m betting Celia Peters didn’t train nearly as hard. Now if the city would just send a tow truck to move that plow in the middle of the street….

For more information on the challenge, go here: http://fanfit.ca/

Hope to see everyone at the Canada Games Centre on Saturday.

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