Archive for July, 2009

Barefoot better?

July 9th, 2009 1 comment

Caprice posted an article from the Toronto Star on Facebook recently. In it, the author takes a look at barefoot running, which seems to be enjoying a resurgence, if you can call it that. The original “surgence” may have been in prehistoric times, for all I know.

Personally, in theory at least, I believe in the virtues of barefoot running. I believe that our bodies evolved to resist forces through the spring-like nature of tendons and ligaments, not through the direct application of force to bone from, say, striking the ground with the heel first. The extra cushioning in the heels of running shoes was designed to protect runners who strike heel first, yet (many? most?) running coaches don’t seem to address the problem with heel striking in the first place. After all, if the shoes are all heel-padded, then heel-striking must be normal, right?

(Don’t get me started on how marketers creates situations that consumers believe are normal or healthy.)

But then again, it would be silly to rush into a barefoot marathon without working up to it. All sorts of problems could crop up. Just so we’re clear.


Anyway, in high school, I took up running, encouraged by the fact that I had a pretty efficient style back then, and I loved running. I was doing a training program with long runs of almost an hour. Then I quit, because I was falling asleep at work, thinking it was because I was running too much. It never occurred to me that the job was boring. Fast forward to a few years ago, when I was in training for a marathon, after having tried to return to running over the intervening decades years. Halfway through a 9K run, I started feeling pain in my left foot, which eventually moved up my leg to my hip. Within a kilometre or two, I was reduced to limping back to my car. It was pretty painful. The prognosis was the beginnings of plantar fasciitis, but it could be staved off with orthotics. Which I had to wear in all my shoes, or transfer between my shoes. I was also told not to go around the house barefoot. And I quit running.

Fast forward to now. I go barefoot around the house all the time, and haven’t worn orthotics since I started going heavy on the Tai Chi about a year after the injury. My Tai Chi shoes are like slippers or almost-no-sole driving shoes. Nothing to them. And I don’t feel pain in the ol’ plantar fascia any more.

But. Earlier, I said I believe in barefoot running “in theory”. Will I actually run barefoot? Not in the city — too many pointy things on the ground. How about in those nothing Tai Chi shoes? Or in those fancy Nike Frees? Or maybe in the oh-so-cute Vibram Five Fingers, seen at the top of this post? Maybe armed with Danny Dreyer’s Chi Running techniques? Stay tuned.

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