Thursday, June 14, 2012

Barefoot Running

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  I finished the book Born to Run the other day (thanks to Jamie and Josh for the loaner copy) and I'm officially HOOKED. I've always liked the idea of ditching running shoes (expensive, no?), but I never before realized that there's no research anywhere - EVER - showing that running shoes help prevent injuries. Since reading, I've looked - and as far as I can tell it's true. I can't find anything saying that more cushion and/or arch support does anything other than lighten your wallet.

Conversely, I had no clue that the research that IS out there shows the opposite - that the more cushy and supportive your shoes are, the more likely you are to suffer an injury. The author of Born to Run cites LOADS of research - some of which even found that the more expensive the shoe (which directly correlates to more cushion and arch support), the more likely a running injury will occur with those shoes! The reasons for this are many and - even better - they make sense!

You see, the more comfortable our feet are, the sloppier we run. We worry less about balance if we can just flail all over willy-nilly style and then - BLAMMO - slam our feet down a little harder to get back on track. The less we feel of the road and/or trail, the more likely we are to roll an ankle. Research also shows (sources are given in Born to Run, but Wife is reading it now...) that, because our bodies naturally search for firmness when seeking balance, they naturally come down harder when we wear thick, soft shoes. We instinctively attempt to press down through the cushion to find the firm ground beneath. This results in much greater stress on our bones and joints when we wear running shoes.

Born to Run makes another great point, this time concerning arch support. When you see a bridge built upon an arch, do you see people frantically trying to build supports beneath it? No - when formed correctly, an arch becomes stronger under pressure. The pieces knit together more firmly. When you build up support from beneath, the integrity and strength of the arch is compromised. In foot terms, arch support weakens our feet by making them lazy. Lazy means weak. Weak means injury. 'Nuff said.

For the past couple weeks, I've slowly been making the transition to barefoot running style. Goodbye heel strikes, bobbing shoulders, and long strides. Hello shorter strides, straight back, and quicker steps (about 180 per minute at a comfortable pace). At first, I couldn't go more than a quarter mile without having my calves screaming indignantly for the next 14 hours. Now, I'm up to a mile, after which I can't even tell I did anything special. I also got the above Vibram FiveFinger Bikilas, which are designed to protect your feet when running either in cities or on the trail. They've got super durable rubber that grips well on a wide variety of terrain without wearing out. I love barefooting on the beach, but when you're on streets with nails, glass, and bits of metal all over the place, you've gotta get some rubber on those duds.

Historically, doctors have been all over the place, but recently more and more doctors who have done their homework are recommending a move away from "traditional" running shoes - though how something that has only been around since the 1970's can be considered "traditional" when humans have been running for thousands and thousands of years is beyond me... Regardless, more docs are recognizing the fact that per-runner injuries have skyrocketed since the advent of the modern running shoe. When done correctly (read: GRADUALLY and INTELLIGENTLY), barefoot running can go a long way toward healthier feet, joints, and body as a whole. If you're less likely to get injured, you're less likely to go to seed on the couch eating potato chips while you wait for that bum knee to heal.

The evidence has convinced me. I will be trying out this barefoot running thing. I hope to be up to around five miles in the next couple months... One last thing - I'll be able to run even once it gets dark, as the new Vibrams have reflective material built right in:

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