Saturday, November 24, 2012

Why Are You Staring At My Shoes?

"Determine never to be is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing" - Thomas Jefferson

Just about every Sunday when I run with my marathon training group, somebody just has to make a comment about my Hoka running shoes, such as "What are those?". I tell them "these are my big-boy Vibrams".

In the running world, all you have to do is utter the word "minimalism" and suddenly everyone has an opinion. And the argument can get sort of spirited, usually ending with something along the lines of "your mother wears combat boots!".

Although many would say "The Book" has been a primary driving force behind the burgeoning minimalist and "barefoot" movement, the fact of the matter is that modern-day running shoes have endured many trends over the years--from light and basic to big and clunky and everything in between. When you look at what many runners, especially in the 1970s and even 1980s wore (pretty low-profile racing flats but nothing like Vibrams), what folks wore in the 1990s and early 2000s (big, clunky shoes) and what's hot these days (Vibrams and barefoot running), you could easily argue that what we're experiencing now is really "minimalism 2.0 on steroids." My first pair of "real" running shoes were Nike Elites which fit me like a custom-made glove, had absolutely no support, and gave me the most clinically perfect case of Plantar Fasciitis.
So, now with the minimalist movement, shoe stores are full of Vibrams, and the similar versions put out by New Balance, Nike, and the such as they jump on the "less is more" bandwagon. And then along comes the Hoka One One, a European company that has introduced innovative--and super-expensive($170)--shoes that appear quite bulky and heavy and are sometimes dissed as looking "clown"-like. Ah, but looks can be deceiving. As almost any proud Hoka owner would attest (I'm on my THIRD pair of Hokas with another new pair sitting in the closet and will likely be a lifer), Hokas are anything but bulky, heavy and Bozo-like (Ok, maybe they ARE Bozo-like). Yes, they have a lot of EVA, but EVA is light (10 oz.), soft and protective. The uppers are pretty simple, contributing to the relative light weight of Hokas. On top of all this, despite the purist-minimalist folks calling the Hokas the equivalent of the Anti-Christ shoe, they have a very low heel-to-toe drop (4mm) making them a shoe that helps to deliver your foot to a midfoot plant rather than the dreaded heel plant. So, they are a light, supportive, low heel drop shoe that has a lot of cushioning. Yes, I can't feel every daggum pebble I step on, but what's wrong with that?

Many of the minimalists contend that we have been sold a bill of goods by the "big shoe" companies that want us to believe more support is better and will help prevent injury. But, Hokas DON'T offer more support, just cushioning. We are, the minimalists say, born to run barefooted, and so why impede the natural movement of the foot with tanks like Hokas?

For whatever it's worth, here's what I think: We weren't born to run per se. We were born to be active and work hard for what we need. It could be said that running was to "prehistoric" beings a means to an end. In "prehistoric" times, when there weren't Publix and Winn-Dixies around every rock, we put a lot of physical effort into hunting and gathering...because our lives depended on it. Meat was a big deal; you had to work super hard to kill an animal, sometimes running dozens of miles until the exhausted animal DNF'd, collapsed, and died. But that was only part of the effort. You had to work almost just as hard bringing the dang carcass back to your loved ones and defending your catch from invaders. And animals weren't just a source of food; furs and hides were used for clothing. And when you weren't eating, you worried about things like fortifying your shelter, staying warm (or cool), protecting your family and friends, finding clean water, figuring out how to use the wheel, etc. All of that required some level of activity, including running and hiking.

But our ancestors didn't run for fitness. If a "caveman" ran 20, 30 or 40 miles, it wasn't training; it was to chase down a deer, evade capture, maybe deliver a message or get back home. And those who did the running were usually the best athletes, i.e., the ones who were the most physiologically gifted. Being fit was part of survival; the best athletes reigned supreme and brought home the dinosaur bacon. Also, they didn't have paved roads like we do. Their pursuits took them across pastures, meadows and calderas, up and down mountains, along treacherous ridges, and over downed trees and big rocks. Well-groomed trails were rare. Their feet, unlike ours today, were conditioned from childbirth to withstand tremendous punishment and were strong in muscle and connective tissue. Our feet today are none of that, in large part because we've been wearing supportive shoes since birth, sitting down a lot, driving our cars to Publix for food instead of chasing down and/or picking our grub, living in relatively low-maintenance shelters, etc.

All of that said, no one really knows for sure whether minimalism today is a good or bad thing, or even the "natural way." People who run in Vibrams, New Balance's line of minimalist trail shoes, and the like swear by them. By the same token, people who run in Hokas (like me) believe their way is the best way for what they need. I believe they saved my running when my ankle pain was so bad I thought my running days were very numbered. So essentially what shoes you wear, if you even choose to wear shoes, is a matter of personal preference. Me? My preference is Hokas. I'll take the ribbing, but my feet are saying "Good Boy!".

No matter what you wear, I'll see you all on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

1 comment:

Yo Momma Runs said...

I've wondered about these shoes and would love to test some. I wish the Hoka people would come out and bring some to test one of these days at a group trail run.