National Magazine Award nominations


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- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)


If you’ll pardon a little self-promotion, the nominations for this year’s National Magazine Awards were announced last night, and I was thrilled to pick up three. Two of them were for my piece in The Walrus about the neuroscience of navigation and how using GPS may be affecting our brains.

The third was for a piece in Canadian Running on evolution, barefoot running and injuries, including some interesting thoughts from Chris McDougall, the author of the bestseller Born to Run. (The piece was written last spring, before McDougall’s book was released and rocketed the topic into the public conversation.) I included a brief excerpt from the piece in a blog entry last summer, but now the full piece is available online for the first time here:

The giant screen at the front of the lecture theatre shows, in gruesome detail, a dissected bare foot connected through tendons to ten different muscles in the lower leg, all pulling in slightly different directions. Benno Nigg, a renowned professor of biomechanics who co-directs the University of Calgary’s Human Performance Laboratory, is leading an audience of Australian academics gathered at the University of Sydney through a presentation titled “The Future of Footwear.” During almost four decades as one of the world’s leading athletic shoe researchers, Nigg has worked closely with major companies such as Adidas, Nike and Mizuno. But plotting the future of the running shoe, he now believes, may require a look to the past, at what worked for our ancestors.

“Look at all these muscles here,” he says, gesturing at the dissected ankle. He asks the audience to guess which of the muscles we need in order to walk while wearing a typical shoe. Only two of the ten are needed, it turns out: the tibialis anterior (shin) and the triceps surae (calf). “And all the other ones, you don’t need, because the shoes take over.” Nigg pauses to let his audience consider this piece of trivia, then poses the central question of his talk: “Is that a problem?” [READ ON…]

6 Replies to “National Magazine Award nominations”

  1. Thanks, Audrey! Hope you’re doing well (and Lauren, peeking over my shoulder, says hi!).

  2. Congratulations, Alex.

    And by the way … I found your piece very interesting all by itself, even without nominations. I had never heard of the Tarahumara (living under a rock, I guess) and find them fascinating. I think they offer a clue to something that has always puzzled me: why do I like cycling so much?

    Now, I would be the first to concede that there is something unnatural about cycling, and I mean more than the flippant observation that we clearly did not evolve to ride bikes on the African savanna. But it does involve holding relatively static positions for long periods, moving one’s legs in circles, etc. But there is also something very satisfying about it.

    The various commitments of modern living mean that I am often obliged to do an intense but relatively brief ride like the Donut ( This is fairly efficient, as door-to-door is about 3.5 hours. But the best rides are done at a more even intensity over a longer period, at least 6 hours. This allow me to explore physical limits that have nothing to do with shin splints, stress fractures, or tendinitis.

    I have often wondered about why I should enjoy this, since I am physically unable to run so long without injuring myself (at least not while wearing shoes.) But perhaps in this respect cycling is not so different from the activities of my distant forbears – in some deeper sense there might be something natural about it after all.

  3. Thanks, guys. And Phil, very interesting thoughts — that’s exactly what I found most intriguing in thinking about Lieberman’s evolutionary hypothesis and chatting with McDougall. Most of the media chatter is about injury prevention and finding the “proper” stride, but the most powerful stuff for me was what I wrote about in the final section of the magazine piece, reassessing what’s “normal” and what we think of as our limits.

  4. A Huge Congrats Alex! Great stuff on your blog. We love checking in to see the different directions you take sport science stories each day. Keep it coming.

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