Sunday, April 11, 2010
I read "Born to Run" a few weeks ago and it all made perfect sense to me: our bare feet were made for running. They have incredible natural bio-engineering in them -- arches and joints and nerve endings and natural flexibility -- all built for barefoot ambulation, and more to the point evolved to perfection for marathon-style "persistence hunting." Historically sandals or simple shoes provided some protection in cold climates and on very rough ground, and heels were useful with stirrups for horseback riding. Eventually, of course, they became part of a fashion statement.
Here's a great video comparing natural running to running in cushioned motion-control shoes. Research shows that the stress on the knee is actually higher in runners wearing $100 shock-absorbing shoes than it is in the same people wearing nothing at all. Why? Because we run differently in expensive shoes. We run badly. Though this type of running form is considered normal now.
I am generally drawn to natural simplicity and even last summer, for reasons that weren't as much scientific as aesthetic, I began experimenting with barefoot running. However I got a nasty sharp thing buried in my sole at some point, so I bought some less robust shoes as a compromise. Then a few weeks later got the hip injury that was miraculously cured three months later by even more supportive and cushioning shoes. It seemed like a failed experiment.
But I think that I did two things wrong. First, I ran completely barefoot on trails without first conditioning my feet to outdoor barefootedness. And secondly, I did a lot of running in my minimally-cushioning shoes without changing my heel-strike.
So here I am again. I'm trying to learn to run with a mid-foot strike and a fast light cadence even in my Asics Kayanos, and then I'm using the sensory feedback I get through bare feet or the super thin Vibram Five Fingers soles to train the bottoms of my feet to feel the surface I'm running on and respond accordingly. So far I'm only running a couple of kilometres at a time in the VFFs. My calves are a bit sore from the extra work they do, and there are the inevitable almost-blisters that always come of getting used to a new running shoe. But the running itself feels light and comfortable. I'm hopeful. Hopeful that I can continue to create mortifying embarrassment for my children for years to come.