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Are your running shoes killing the environment?

NOV 3, 2023

Minute 1: It doesn't take much running to live longer

Normally when someone delivers big news, they tell you to sit down, but it might be healthier to stand up for this one. Researchers have become increasingly worried about the negative health effects of a sedentary lifestyle – you know, the whole “sitting is the new smoking” idea. Previous research suggested that you’d need 60+ minutes of physical activity to counter long bouts of tush time. We were heartened this week to read this new story, however: “New research suggests even 22-minute runs can help you live longer.” The study looked at 12,000 participants and found that those who were sedentary for 12 or more hours per day had a 38% increased risk of death. However, 22 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise was enough to reverse this risk. There is some debate on the exact number, but the results across various studies confirm that small amounts of exercise can have a big impact: “The Definitive Amount of Exercise You Need to Make Up for Sitting All Day.” Staying active also helps offset the negative effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder that impacts so many of us through the winter months. One study found that 35 minutes of exercise was the right antidote. It's worth noting that this exercise doesn’t need to all come at once. Some office workers have found success with walking breaks. For more on that, read: “Sitting all day can be deadly. 5-minute walks can offset harms.”

Minute 2: Make the most out of meal delivery plans

If your goal is to eat a nutritionally diverse diet, meal kits offer one of the best recipes for success. Historically, this culinary option had a reputation for being pricey, but that’s starting to change. Meal services have made big strides in both efficiency and quality, and if you employ a few tricks, they just might be cheaper than a grocery run. Check out: “Are Meal Kits Worth It? They Are If You Do This.” Many services offer enticing sign-up bonuses, making the first few weeks cost substantially less. By ordering more servings per meal and selecting food that freezes, you can drop your average cost per meal as well. If reducing waste is your goal and you mostly cook for one, Factor Meals could be your best option, according to “Factor Meals Review: I Tried This Service for a Week and Here's What I Thought.” Factor Meals are single-serving, no-prep-necessary meals that arrive at your door at whatever frequency you like – up to 18 meals per week. They offer a pretty flexible menu as well, and if you want to get the most nutritional bang for your buck, consider meals that include in-season veggies like butternut squash: “Health Benefits of Butternut Squash.”

Minute 3: Prep for daylight savings with these tips

Does anyone even want daylight savings anymore? It feels like every year, there’s talk of introducing a bill that will put an end to the clock-swapping once and for all, but nothing ever reaches the finish line. This weekend, we’ll be falling back once again, and although that means runners in Sunday’s NYC Marathon get an extra hour of sleep, it’s always a good idea to adjust your habits so your circadian rhythm isn’t thrown far. For that, follow these “3 Trainer-Approved Tips for Preparing Your Body—and Your Workout Routine—for Daylight Saving Time.” When your sleep and wake times are altered, it can often result in feelings of lethargy. Finding the motivation to exercise can be a little tricky, so it’s a good idea to have your workouts scheduled ahead of time. That way, you know exactly what you need to and it’s easy to execute and keep your training momentum rolling. Using the sunlight to your advantage can help as well, since it’s one of the most powerful tools to regulate your circadian rhythm. Plus, that’s just one of the “7 Benefits of Getting Your Run Done in the Morning.” Morning runs can improve focus and productivity, weight management, blood pressure levels, and more.

Minute 4: Shoe Review: Saucony Triumph RFG ($160)

Normally, when our shoe reviewer friend Brian Metzler talks about carbon and running shoes, he means the plates embedded in soles that can propel you forward to a marathon PR. Today, however, Brian weighs in with a very thoughtful piece about the carbon footprint of the running shoe industry. And unfortunately for the future of the planet, it’s a bigfoot-sized stomp on the environment. While that’s a downer, there is some hope as brands like Saucony have invested in cleaner manufacturing processes of late. Brian has tested the new eco-friendly Saucony Triumph RFG and says it delivers just as sweet a ride and at the same price point as the similar Saucony Triumph 21 that he tested last year. A few highlights of his review of the Saucony Triumph RFG are below, but for his full take, check it out on our website.

I hate to break this to everyone, but the running shoe manufacturing business isn’t exactly an eco-friendly industry. No, this isn’t at all a tree-hugger rant. It’s more of a keen observation from a running shoe geek who knows that every shoe he’s run in over the past three decades is barely decomposed and buried in a landfill somewhere. Yep, that’s a rough reality to contemplate, especially when we know there are 50 million active runners in the U.S. alone.

While there have been plenty of very good green initiatives and a general shift among brands to create products with a more prominent focus on sustainability in recent years, the running shoe manufacturing process has an enormous carbon footprint. Shoes are mostly made with petroleum-based plastic materials in Vietnam and China and then shipped to distributors and eventually to retailers and consumers all over the planet. Because running shoes are a single-use, expendable commodity with a short shelf life – at least for the performance aspects of running – it’s easy to see that there’s a huge population of runners around the world buying new shoes and discarding them (or hopefully at least donating them) every year. And for most runners, that means several pairs annually.

For the past six weeks or so, I’ve been logging miles in a new Saucony shoe called the Triumph RFG, a neutral-oriented everyday trainer with an innovative bio-based midsole, a cotton upper colored with plant-based dyes and an outsole engineered from 80% natural rubber. It’s one of the most sustainable running shoes ever made, but the best part about it is that the Triumph RFG looks, feels and runs almost identically to the Triumph 21 that Saucony released last spring. (Read my review of that shoe here.)

RFG stands for “Run For Good,” which might sound a bit cliché when you first hear it, but it doesn’t matter because this shoe isn’t about greenwashing marketing fluff. The Triumph RFG is built around a corn-based PWRRUN BIO+ midsole foam, which is essentially a more eco-friendly version of Saucony’s responsive PWRRUN+ that’s made from a variety of petroleum distillates. Roughly 55% of the PWRRUN BIO+ midsole material comes from bio-based Susterra propanediol, a 100% regeneratively grown, dent corn-based 1,3-propanediol compound.

I won’t claim to be smart enough to understand the material science behind it, but having tested thousands of pairs of running shoes over the past 25 years, I can definitely report on the shoe’s high level of performance as a versatile everyday trainer. While running 125 miles in it since mid-September is only a limited scope of the shoe’s long-term viability, I have found the ride of the Triumph 21 and the Triumph RFG to be virtually identical. Both shoes serve up a springy, lively vibe and the same “buttery smooth, long-haul comfort” that I found in other Saucony shoes with PWRRUN+ midsoles. I have enjoyed several long runs (10+ miles), a couple of up-tempo workouts and plenty of nondescript, average-paced runs in this shoe. Although I can barely differentiate the performance aspects, I have to admit I like the soft feel and enhanced breathability of the Triumph RFG’s cotton upper better than that of the synthetic materials of the Triumph 21.

For Brian’s full analysis of the new Saucony Triumph RFG, plus descriptions of other green shoes from On, Asics and Allbirds, check it out here.

Minute 5: Quick Intervals

  • If you ask the experts what the greatest weightlifting shoe in the world is, they’d probably come back with some hyper-specific and expensive model, custom-built for pumping iron. We think a more practical answer is: whatever shoe gets you in the gym is the right one. If you’re worried about the potential downsides of lifting in a sneaker or other shoe that’s not technically built for the task, this might be your cue to relax: “It’s Fine, You Can Lift in Running Shoes.”

  • In past issues, we’ve spoken positively about a number of cardio machines, from treadmills, to ellipticals, to stair machines. One thing that those three are missing, however, is an intense upper body workout. That’s where rowing machines pull into the lead, and if you’re looking for a quality way to introduce some cross training into your schedule, consider the “8 reasons why a rowing machine needs to be part of your workout routine.”

  • Our fast friend and running music DJ, Rebecca Trachsel, is back this week with a new featured song recommendation. Hats off to Coach Trax as she continues to churn out great content and music while in the midst of training her team for the Massachusetts HS XC championships this month. She gave Six Minute Mile a nice shout out on her popular blog, Running with Music, and provided a handy collection of the songs she’s shared with our readers so far, along with a description of why you may enjoy them. Check it out here. Today's song, hand selected by Coach Trax, is “The Secret To Life” by FIZZ. The band is composed of Orla Gartland, dodie, Martin Luke Brown and Greta Isaac, all better known for their budding solo careers in various genres including indie, rock, punk & folk. You often hear the term “supergroup" associated with bands that are made up of well-known individual artists but they have rejected this label outright and instead claim to be a cohesive unit grounded by their friendship and their desire to do something totally different on the side. With Fizz they are taking a break from their day to day work and jumping into something creative and fun that also feeds their other interests as musicians. “The Secret To Life,” released just over a week ago, is an upbeat, toe-tapping, high energy jam that hooks you in right from the start. I can't help but smile every time it comes on. Perhaps they have the Secret? You can find it on Spotify here and Apple Music here. #turnitup

Minute 6: Daily Inspiration

Runners come from all backgrounds and walks of life, but when we step up to the starting line together, we’re all united in the same challenge. It’s pretty remarkable how universal the experience of running a marathon can be, and we got quite a laugh out of @corcor_the_herbivore’s recent video. He breaks down the stages of the race we know all too well, from the naive energy of the first few miles, to the pessimistic dread when you hit the wall. If you want to relieve your marathon experience, or get a glimpse into what it will be like on your first time, check out the clip below.


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