Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thoughts on Running Barefoot

From True/Slant on July 12, 2009:

To Wear Shoes, or Not to Wear Shoes. That is the Question.

I run. I never refer to myself as a runner, because despite the fact that I run three to four times a week, I hate to run. And still, I run. I don’t run long distances like marathons or even half-marathons. The notion of running for four straight hours strikes me as a little unhinged, frankly. But I run three miles or five miles, depending on the day, my mood and the timing. Who cannot stake out 30 minutes or an hour for some vigorous exercise, I remind myself. Besides, it keeps me from starring in some health network or discovery channel show titled, “The Ass That Ate a Small City,” or ending up like one of those people who the fire department needs to cut out of their bathrooms. I see “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” as a cautionary tale, so it’s three miles here, and five miles there.

The running does it’s job. I am not embarrassed to be seen in polite society.

But every step is torture. Sometimes I get a stitch. Sometimes my surgically reconstructed, titanium (just like the space shuttle!) ankle hurts. Other times, my knee, which is in need of surgical repair, hurts. Mostly, I sweat a lot and pant a lot. I try to focus on the music on my iPod and the river I run next to. It’s lovely really. I try not to swallow any of the swarms of gnats that populate the trail. I also have to concentrate in order to not be run over by neophytes on bikes who don’t realize that the trail works the same as the road — slow traffic on the right, pass on the left, and so on.

I don’t have fancy running clothes. Just some gym shorts, whatever t-shirt is clean and usually a ballcap. I’ve run in New Balance, in Asics and in Sauconys only to discover that New Balance shoes work best for me. It’s not an endorsement, just a personal foot thing. I’m as low-tech and low-maintenance as they come, and I don’t think I’ve even spent $100.00 on a pair of shoes.

Now, after all these years, I’m told I should go even lower-tech, get back to nature and run barefoot. Really? According to an article in “Wired” by Dylan Tweeney,

"Now, a small but growing body of research suggests that barefoot is the way adults should run, too. So, many runners have been shucking off the high-tech trainers in favor of naked feet — or minimalist footwear like Nike Free, the Newton All-Weather Trainer and the glove-like Vibram FiveFingers.
“People have been running barefoot for millions of years and it has only been since 1972 that people have been wearing shoes with thick, synthetic heels,” said Daniel Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University."

The proponents, such as Lieberman, cite the fact that we evolved without shoes and our feet adapted accordingly. I don’t work at Harvard and I don’t mean to be contrary, but it is possible that we’ve also evolved and adapted to shoes over the last several centuries, too.

Besides, my feet are well-tended to and pretty tender. Even inside, I don’t like going barefoot.

Just take a look down the next time you’re walking to lunch or to get some coffee. It’s a minefield out there. Even without logging too may miles on nasty, funky city sidewalks, road surfaces are rough. I run most of my miles on a trail that is mixed — some dirt, some paved and some ash. It’s a little softer on the joints, but it’s also terribly uneven, strewn with pebbles, stones and, not to be gross, an extraordinary amount of goose shit. Although Mr. Tweeney does not site avian scat among his barefoot concerns, he did encounter some problems with road surface:

"My second barefoot run, on asphalt, went more poorly: I tore up the tip of my fourth toe on the rough surface and spent the rest of my (shod) run bleeding into my sock. That was enough to make the attraction of Vibram’s foot gloves clear: They give you much of the feeling of running barefoot, and give the same workout to your arches, Achilles tendons and calves — except you don’t have to worry about injuries from rough terrain."

And I wonder, might I hate running less in those “Five Finger” things (which look kinda like alien, space-age gloves for your feet)? Are they the miracle that I’ve been waiting for? The missing piece which will forever liberate me from the stitches and aches and allow me to run free, like a Little Leaguer rounding the bases? After all, Tweeney indicated that he learned to enjoy it. Plus, those Five Fingers things are freaky looking and it would be fun to get a rise out of those moronic bikers.

Who am I kidding? Nothing makes running easier. It’s meant to be torture, I think. Better the devil you know. I’m sticking with my worn out New Balances. At least until I get really desperate.

To read the whole article and watch the video, go to Wired here.

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