Friday, July 8, 2011

Conversation With a Runner

Over the 4th of July holiday I had the chance to have a “discussion” about fitness, nutrition, and running shoes with a former marathoner. Can you guess how that conversation went?  It was what I expected for the most part.  There were a few surprises.  I had no idea runners were so attached to their running shoes!  I had just come in from running some sprints.  I had worn a pair of minimalist shoes(Nike Free TR’s. Not really that minimalist, but they are what I have.) since the holiday festivities were held right outside where I was staying so I was worried about debris in the grass and the pavement was a little hot to go barefoot in the Florida heat.  I mentioned how I would have preferred to run them barefoot, as I find it better.  The runner then went on to inform me of the role good running shoes play.  Apparently, it is important they be flexible, with proper padding in the heel, and good arch support.  I was told how if I don’t have those things then I will suffer from any number of ailments from running, ranging from shin splints to stress fractures in my heals over time.  I informed him that that is not the case for me, and that if those are problems people face then they are not running properly.  Well, that went over like a fart in a wet bathing suit.  Experienced runners don’t like to hear they are doing it wrong.  But riddle me this Batman, if the arch is one of the strongest load-bearing structures(the Roman aqueducts are still standing after all), then why do we need to “support” them?  You only need to have cushioning in the heel if you are slamming your heel down on the ground.  In that case, then yes, you will hurt yourself without it.  I used this example, let me know if I’m off base, If you were pounding on your hand with a hammer and realized “hey, this hurts”, would you A) develop a padded glove to wear that will absorb the shock and minimize the impact of the blow, or B) STOP HITTING YOURSELF!  The running shoes are simply masking the problem, and further weakening your foot in the process.  As a species, we’ve been developing for a very long time, and the ability to run is a big part of our development.  The amount of time in our history that we have been wearing modern style shoes is a mere blink of the eye in the big picture of human evolution.  Something tells me natural selection is a little better at determining what works best for us than Nike, Asics, Saucony, and New Balance combined.

I am far from being any kind of expert on barefoot running, or in running in general.  I am just getting back into it, and retraining myself after a lifetime of poor technique.  But there are people out there that know quit a bit, and they are worth listening to. People like Prof. Dan Lieberman, Chris McDougall, Barefoot Ted, and Barefoot Ken Bob.  If you are interested you can find their books here, it is definitely worth your time.

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