Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen sparked a trend here in the US when it came on the scene in 2009. I, like many other runners, devoured the book and were inspired by its rich information about running. Suddenly the market was flooded with Barefoot Running shoes, with runners and non-runners touting that it is better for the body. The idea behind it being that the body was designed to handle the stresses of running and that the running shoe had us running the wrong way. McDougall’s book speaks of the Tarahumara tribe in Copper Canyon, Mexico as an example of proper running. The Tarahumara regularly compete in 100+ mile races with nothing more than a thin sandal on their feet. And so the question is asked, do we really need these motion controlled running sneakers with padding between you and the road? Do these sneakers cause more harm than good? Born to Run clearly makes a case for less is more.
Barefoot proponents claim that any brand of barefoot or minimal running shoes deliver a more correct, forefoot-first stride than traditional running shoes. This type of stride is more natural than the heel first stride of modern runners. In theory, this should mean less repetitive motion injuries. These barefoot designs also put less weight on the foot. Resulting in the runner using less energy. Lastly, these designs deliver more feedback from the ground to the runner allowing for a more stable running platform than a built-up traditional running shoe.
On the Flip side
Recent research demonstrates an increased risk of bone marrow edema, the accumulation of fluid in the bones with those who were these barefoot or minimal running shoes. The body was not designed to run on hard surfaces like asphalt. The design of the running shoe was created to adapt to these hard conditions. If you have flat feet or overpronate, there are plenty of arguments out there for avoiding barefoot/minimal shoes.
I’ve tried the barefoot shoes. It takes an awful long time to build up the strength in your calves, feet, and ankles to wear them for long distances. Most runners, must cut back their distances when they start out with these shoes. I was wearing them as I trained for one marathon, but had to eventually give them up as it was taking too long for my legs to recover and I couldn’t put the proper mileage in each week. They take a lot to get used to and the switch from heel-first strike to forefoot-first strike definitely takes some getting used to.
We no longer chase or get chased by antelope or any other animal. We run more regularly. We run on asphalt. Traditional running shoes are designed to cushion the runner’s foot for these conditions. And at the end of the day, avoiding injuries and achieving the best performance comes down to training and good running technique.