Sunday, January 2, 2011

Running Barefoot vs Running Shoes

One of the things that happened as a result of Christopher McDougall's excellent book,Born to Run, was that it ignited what I will call the barefoot running craze. Over the past few years there have been countless articles in the magazines and on the Web touting the benefits of running barefoot. In fact,there is a covering for your foot,I can't call it a shoe,made by Vibram Five Fingers that has become incredibly successful as a result of McDougall mentioning it in his book. You get the sense after reading all the info out there that running barefoot is the way to go.The reality,as it often happens with what I will call fads,is that this is not necessarily true.
There is no doubt that there have been problems with running shoes for years. Arthur Lydiard, who was a shoemaker early in his life and advised a few of the running shoe companies decades later,referred to the modern running shoe as "gumboots." He said they were heavy and restrictive to natural foot movement and too often were the cause of a variety of injuries. One time,in response to a runner who enquired about his pronation problems, Lydiard told him to take off his running shoes, take a run in the sand and see if he could see any evidence of his pronation problem. His point was,your shoes were the problem,not you. At a seminar that Lydiard gave back in the late '80's he surprised many in attendance by saying you should train in the same shoes you race in. It was the belief then that you trained in the clunky well cushioned shoe and raced in the light flexible one.Lydiard knew that running shoes should be light and flexible while providing some cushioning. He added that a simple test on most running shoes at the time of this seminar would reveal that they were anything but flexible.
You may know the following but for those who don't I'll say this,the foot is an incredible and complex appendage.It's made up of 26 bones,33 joints and 107 ligaments. When it has spent the last several decades inside a running shoe for some part of the day,the transition to activity without a shoe,as you might suspect,must be a gradual and careful one.There are many sources out there that tell you how to make that transition in a sensible,timely manner and I'm not going to go into that here. It is my opinion that running barefoot on things like concrete,pavement or blacktop at any time is foolish and asking for trouble.If you want to run over a football field,a golf course or on the beach, then that's a different story but a period of transitioning is still essential. Ultimately,something better than running barefoot has come from this craze or fad. In response to the heightened interest in barefoot running the shoe companies have started making lightweight,flexible running shoes. My goodness, once again, Arthur Lydiard was ahead of his time.

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