"If the shoe doesn't fit, must we change the foot?"
Ok, I have to admit it to you all. I don't know if it's the beautiful weather here in Birmingham, the fact that my running is SLOWLY getting better (my parameters), or the giddiness I feel when the Mets beat the Yankees. Possibly, it could be that the world is supposed to end in a few hours and I'm not thinking clearly. But what I have to admit is that I am having writer's block. So, I'm going to write about a subject that has been bugging the living stew out of me. It's not that big a deal. It just bugs me.
You see, I'm a Physical Therapist, and so I'm asked occasionally about my take on barefoot running. Honestly, since I'm pretending that you asked, I'll put it simply. I think it's much more advertising hooey than it is based on fact. Years ago, Malcolm Gladwell wrote The Tipping Point (great book!) and I think this is a perfect example of an idea taking off like a rock rolling downhill with no specific cause except that Chris McDougal wrote Born To Run (good book, but not a great book) about the perception - or mythology - about barefoot running curing all shoe-caused running evils at exactly the right time to feed an accepting public. No, as a PT, I can't say I've seen more injuries with or without shoes. But, I also feel that although the Indians communicated pretty good with smoke signals, I have to admit the phone is better. Translated, I mean the technology that has developed to protect your feet and lower body from having to absorb 3-4 times your body weight a thousand times for EVERY mile you run seems to be something that would be good. But, barefoot running enthusiasts are very passionate about their religion...er, cult...er, whatever, and so I'm not going to make this a soapbox stand against it.
But here's the funny thing - I’ve been running for 33 years. I’ve never been a professional distance runner, but I have run 129 marathons or ultramarathons and have raced in many US and a few foreign cities. Although I didn't exactly run with them, I have observed many elite and professional runners doing their best for both fame and money. This is their livelihood! Not one time, not at a single competition, have I seen a professional athlete run barefoot. In fact, I’ve never seen a professional athlete do any percentage of serious training without that evil, injury-causing invention of a modern day running shoe. Years ago, one of my TNT trainees was asking me about the virtues of bike riding to help his running. My answer to him was "When was the last time you have seen a Kenyan on a bike?". So, when was the last time you saw a Kenyan run barefoot? You may be tempted to argue that in rural parts of Africa, they don't wear shoes and they run pretty good I would say! That's true, but I have to think it's mostly because they can't afford them. Looking at ALL the professional African runners here in the US - running roads each weekend - all over the country - they wear shoes. Shoes protect their feet AND they run faster with shoes. And in 2010, Kenyans won 126 of the world's top 156 marathons! It just seems to me that a professional runner will do anything - sometimes illegal - to run just a small percentage faster. They change their blood or they inject chemicals in their bodies, for Pete's Sake. Some will risk their lives! Thank goodness, most are honest and revert to good ol' sweat. But, don't you think that if running barefoot would help them, we would at least see SOME of them doing it?
Some people need more support on their feet than others. It doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t run or go for a jog or stay fit by running. It just means their body naturally overpronates more than usual – and a supportive running shoe will offer a bit of support to correct that overpronation. The modern running shoe, believe it or not, is a good thing. The modern day running shoe is not the cause of injury. After being in the sport for over 3 decades, and more importantly, as a Physical Therapist, I can suggest that there are likely other reasons for many of the knee, ankle, and foot injuries caused from running. Too much weight and lack proper base training comes to mind real quickly.
If you get hurt wearing a particular shoe, try a different shoe. Here, in Birmingham, The Trak Shak will go to great lengths to find a good fit for your body style and level of running. It may take a couple of trips – but I promise a good fit does exist.
A quote from George Sheehan I often use in this blog is "We are all an experiment of one". Find what floats your boat and sail with it. But, don't get caught up in a fad because somebody wrote a book that hit that tipping point. Educate yourself, ask around, observe the serious guys at races. I'm obviously not a fan of barefoot running, but that's not what gets me stewed - it's these shoe companies going crazy trying to make up your mind for you.
OK guys, time is running out on this end-of-the-world thing and I've got a bottle of wine in the fridge that I refuse to let go to waste. Hope I didn't offend anybody with my barefoot opinion. Send me your comments. I'd love to hear success stories - really. Barefoot or not, I hope to see you all on the roads - AL
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