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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fan Friday: Shane Wickson, Police Officer By Day, Barefoot Runner By Night



"Do you know how fast you were going meow?"


Today's Fan Friday poster is Shane Wickson, a police officer in Fort Worth area of Texas.  I wanted him to share his story because the transition to minimal running as a police officer is just a bit different.  You not only have to deal with the criticism of your peers, but from the law enforcement community as a whole. 

Police officers, like those in the armed forces, have a distinct culture when it comes to fitness.  Certain fitness protocols have been in place for a long time. There’s a lot of resistance towards change.  At least in the military, I know that the reaction to minimalist/barefoot trend has been one part whole-hearted adoption, and one part institutional backlash.  So much so that the military has banned the use of Vibram Fivefingers during PT.

 I asked Shane to talk about how whether the law enforcement community's reaction has been similar.  Shane has been working to design a better system for keeping officers healthy in his department.  So he's thought about these issues for a while.  Here's what he said.  My comments are in bold, as always.

What's your fitness background?

My fitness journey started last fall. I discovered some videos on the Internet of some guys doing something called "Parkour" that I found fascinating. I was amazed at how fluid some of these guys moved, seeming to flow over and around obstacles with complete ease. I was watching one of the videos at work and I remarked to a co-worker that I wished I could move like that. He simply responded "why can't you?" When I started thinking of the answers of "I'm too old", "I'm out ofshape", etc, I realized they were all excuses. So I resolved to get in better shape and I began again to watch what I ate and started lifting weights again.

When did you start running?
My running journey started with my wife running a half-marathon shortly thereafter. While she did this, I drank a coke and ate some chicken fingers. I passed on the beer because it was 9:00AM. Eating fried foods at 9:00AM didn't bother me, but drinking that early seemed wrong - I suppose everyone has their limits.

While preparing for her half-marathon, she read a book called "Born to Run", perhaps you have heard of it? (end snark) She wholeheartedly recommended that I read it. Being sedentary left me with a lot of time to read, so I went ahead and did it.

After reading "Born to Run", something else occurred to me. We humans were created to be running animals. And who was I to shrug off millions of years of evolution and presume that my physical makeup was such that I couldn't run. Seriously, was I so arrogant to think that my body makeup was different than everyone else? I mean, we all share roughly 99.9% of the same DNA.
How did you start the whole minimal shoes thing?
I started by ditching my normal running shoes for some lighter weight, thinner soled shoes designed for Parkour and freerunning. And I began working on a forefoot strike and using a shorter stride. I didn't go completely barefoot because I knew the transition would take time and I above all wanted to run the Warrior Dash.

In March, I ran and completed the Warrior Dash. And it was the most fun I had in a long time. And I did so without aggravating my knee and ankle injuries, just by adopting a forefoot strike running style. But I wasn't completely into barefoot running yet.

I kept running for a few months after that.  I also shed the shoes a couple of times, both on the treadmill and while out and about. And I loved it.  However, we had reached a time that we Texans call "summer", and that the rest of world refers to as "OMG, I'm being roasted alive!".  And since the pavement around here is still burns white hot like my hatred of Justin Bieber, I purchased a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves.
It was glorious. Running in the "barefoot" or minimalist shoes was light years away from attempting a forefoot strike in other shoes. It was like coming home, and I felt like I was flying.
Is your attitude toward barefoot running common among the law enforcement community?
Unfortunately, no, for a lot of reasons. Although me adopting it is a statistical uptick, I suppose. Zero to one in a 50 man department is something, right? :)

Police officers tend to be muscularly stronger than the average person, but their cardio-respiratory fitness and body fat are worse. That's because the warrior culture that is a strong part of most police organizations values strength and fighting prowess more than endurance athletics. We have more meat-heads than marathoners, as a rule. :)
We also don't have access to quality food and fitness equipment like firefighters and the military.  Police officers meet at the beginning of the shift, then disperse out to the city to distinctly different beats where the largely work alone or in two-person teams. We have a high call load with a number of shorter calls and only a short time between calls. That makes it extremely difficult to work out or even eat healthy during your shift. 
What made you buck the trend in law enforcement fitness and start running minimalist?


Being a police officer is a second career for me. I got my degree in Computer Science and spent my first 6 years of my career doing systems and network administration and computer programming. I got caught up in the tech downturn finally in 2002, and I spent a year working as a tech in a big box store as I launched my law enforcement career.


Coming from that background it makes a bit more sense: tech guys tend to ask a lot of questions, and the field is one in which creativity and non-standard thinking are rewarded. So I don't mind experimenting and doing something different.

What do your co-workers think of your conversion to minimal running?

They make fun of me of course.  Cops always tease each other about stuff.  But if they weren't teasing me about this, they'd be doing it about something else.

What do you think it will take for barefoot and minimalist running to become more popular with law enforcement?

Before we will see an uptick in barefoot running in the police world, we are going to have to see an uptick in physical fitness. And a change in the culture. Fortunately that appears to be happening.  There has been a recognition by many departments that something has to give.  I'm one of the many officers around the country working on a wellness policy for my department to promote better health among my fellow officers. 

But besides movements like that, we're seeing individual adoption of more healthy habits.  That police culture that is resistant to change is largely on a bureaucratic level, individuals are usually quicker to consider alternative ideas. Results are what matters, and you can't argue with the results of high intensity interval workouts, like P90X, Insanity, and Crossfit.  The same could be said for minimal shoes.  And since minimal shoes are popular in programs like Crossift, we might see some crossover. 

Another trend in the minimal shoes world that will likely effect police adoption is the trend towards more mainstream looking shoes. I lovingly call the VFFs "Gecko Feet", and another term I've heard for them around the PD is "Gorilla Feet". The VFFs, whatever you call them, draw attention to the wearer.
When you put on the uniform and go out to work, you are immediately the center of attention. So, when its time to take off the uniform and be a "regular person" (which never really happens when you are a police officer), most of us don't like being the center of attention. We want to be able to just move around the rest of society without being noticed, and wearing lime green Gecko feet isn't conducive to that.

But now you have Merrell with their Barefoot line, Terra Plana's VivoBarefoot, and several other shoes coming out that look like traditional shoes. But the have most to all of the benefits of VFFs. So I can see police officers gravitating that way as well.
Well I'm glad you've taken the step towards a healthier life Shane, and are helping others do the same!  Thanks for shedding a little light on life as a "barefoot" cop. 


Citizens, I don't know about you, but the only thing I want to do over the Labor Day weekend is the opposite of labor.  I'll probably be going to the Minnesota State Fair to use my updated state fair bingo card.  I hope you find time to cut lose and make some bad decisions this weekend.  It builds character.


Cheers on a stick!





7 comments:

  1. That's interesting about how there is little uptake in minimal running in the US police force. I have some friends here in the RCMP (I'm in Canucksville) and it seems as if minimalist running is steadily growing - with the number wearing VFF's no more or less than the general running population.

    It's these misconceptions about minimalist running (i.e. you need to be a certain height/weight/build or that you need to have perfect form. That you will step on things and that you will break something if you try it; people will think you're weird), that seem to be the sticking point for people making the switch.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, they say that its all about the editing, and it is! You made me sound all sorts of smart and fit.

    I do object to the picture, though. I look much more like the cops from Superbad. :)

    ReplyDelete
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