Monday, August 10, 2009

Barefoot Running

Been really thinking of taking up some barefoot running since reading the book "Born to Run". My buddy Neal sent me this article with lots of valid points, basically I need to be careful with it. You can read the article by clicking here or I have copied it below for you.

Barefoot running: enthusiasts swear by weird-looking shoes
Gotta be the (lack of) shoes
By Clay Evans
Friday, August 7, 2009

BOULDER, Colo. — Kristen Campbell spent most of her 20s wearing soft leather moccasins everywhere she went, even on extended backpacking trips. But when she “grew up,” she reluctantly moved on to “real” shoes.

“I had to move out of the hippie ranks,” says the avid, 39-year-old distance runner, perhaps a little ruefully. “I had to stop being a dirtbag.”

So she was intrigued when she learned of a small but growing movement that advocates running barefoot, or something close to it. In Boulder, following the publication of “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall this spring — which, among many other things, wages war against thick-soled modern running shoes — the trend of running in “barefoot” or “minimal” shoes has taken off as fast as Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.

After reading the book, Campbell bought a pair of Vibram Five Fingers shoes mentioned by McDougall. The shoes have virtually no support, offering only a tough, thin sole and individual pockets for each toe.

“They are so much fun to wear,” she says. “I feel the ground more ... They make for a more intimate running experience.”

Wimpy feet

McDougall, who now runs exclusively in Five Fingers and other low-support shoes, shined a light on scientific research that, in his words, shows that “running shoes may be the most destructive force to ever hit the human foot.” In fact, he writes, modern running shoes actually cause all those persistent running injuries, from plantar fasciitis to bum knees. Essentially, they make wimps of runners’ feet.

“The puzzling conclusion (of the evidence): the more cushioned the shoe, the less protection it provides,” McDougall writes.

There are true, fanatical, evangelistic shoeless runners out there (Google “Barefoot Ted” or “Barefoot Ken Bob”) but on local trails, most “barefoot” aficionados find some protection is necessary for sole survival.

A painful trend?

But before you slap on some funky-looking shoes or all that “new” minimalist footgear now being hawked by major shoe companies desperate to keep up with the trend, former world-champion marathoner and physical therapist Mark Plaatjes says come talk to him.

“How many people do you know who live here who have grown up not wearing shoes?” asks Plaatjes, 48, co-owner of The Boulder Running Co. “You’ve got people who have lived on this planet 30, 40, 50, even 60 years wearing shoes, and now they are going to run barefoot?”

He agrees that running barefoot or in minimal-support shoes can strengthen foot muscles and even help heal certain types of injuries. But he’s already seeing the painful results of the trend in his practice.

“I say this not as a retailer, but as a physical therapist: Shoes protect feet when you run on concrete, pavement and rocks,” Plaatjes says. “If we ran marathons completely on grass, I’d say do it. If we had them on the beach or on soft dirt, I’d say absolutely do it. ... But the majority of people can’t do this. So they’re jumping in, but sooner or later they are coming to see me or a podiatrist or a doctor.”

Barefoot therapy

Benji Durden, long-time Boulder runner, coach and former Olympic marathoner, is one of those who has found that some barefoot running has helped him recover from injuries. But the operative word is “some.”

In the 1980s, he did often trained barefoot on grass “just because I felt like it,” accidentally discovering that it helped with an Achilles tendon injury. He forgot about the joy and utility of running sans shoes over the years, but this spring when he was having Achilles problems again, he ran into a friend wearing Five Fingers. So he started doing some workouts on grass in bare feet again.

“For me, running barefoot is the better solution than all that support,” says Durden, 57. “But I don’t know if that’s valid for the entire American running population.”

Boulder Running Co. has been selling minimalist shoes like the Nike Free and Adidas Echo. But Plaatjes and co-owner Johnny Halberstadt just last week decided to start carrying the Five Fingers, despite Plaatjes' concerns.

"We are just getting so many questions about them," Plaatjes says. "At least they provide some protection."

Ugly maybe, but still selling

But so far, the Pedestrian Shops in Boulder have had a monopoly on the curious-looking shoes. Lauren Polk, operations manager for the stores, says sales of Five Fingers have kicked into a sprint since McDougall's book hit the stands.

“Every week it’s fair to say we’re selling 40 to 50 pairs,” she says.

Polk is intrigued by the sudden popularity of what many see as ugly shoes (as one local Facebook poster wrote, “These are weird even by Boulder standards.”)

“They are sort of the opposite of everything that the running industry has been telling runners until now. I think it may be a turning point, the whole idea of training yourself to run on (the forefoot) as opposed to heel strikes,” she says.

That’s the concept behind Boulder-based startup Newton Running’s super-light shoes, low-support concept shoes, whose design virtually forces forefoot or mid-foot running instead of contacting the ground with a thick, padded heel.

American vs. African feet

But even Campbell, who loves her barefooting, has found that the technique and shoes have their limitations.

“I have a hard time keeping up with people. And I need all my mechanical advantages on gravelly, rocky stuff,” she says.

Like a patient parent, Plaatjes is willing to wait out the fad. He thinks it will fade quickly as more runners become injured and find themselves limping back to a pair of solid modern shoes.

“In Africa, where people run, walk and grow up not wearing shoes, they can do this,” says the South African native. “Still, how many Kenyans do you see racing marathons in bare feet?”