Footwear, accepted and denied Running for sport and recreation are perhaps as unique as the enthusiasts who first roused the market. Today, that market (running shoes) is changing. While the 21st century has propelled us into an “age of hyper-engineered performance gear and space-age wicking fabrics;” barefoot running has reinvented the marketplace, while simultaneously inspiring the new generation (Sprinkle 2004). The idea that running barefoot can be beneficial is a relatively liberal idea in a comparatively conservative culture (today’s running community, particularly with respect to shoes).
And, while the majority of research on the evolution of human locomotion has focused primarily on walking, the demand for a new perspective on running has taken hold (Bramble & Liebermann 2004). When Ken Bob Saxton first pioneered the “barefoot running movement” around 1998, the year he started keeping track of races he had completed in the absence of shoes; the U. S. scene for distance running was experiencing a decline in performance consistent at the Olympic level (Kenyans, Ethiopians, and smaller East African nations were leading the pack).Order now
Moreover, America’s love of running had declined greatly since the 1960’s and 70’s jogging boom when Steve Prefontaine was breaking records and challenging runners internationally. Effectively, the 21st century needed a wave of new pioneers to revive distance running in the U. S. Saxton, albeit not singlehandedly (the philosophy has existed though has only recently become mainstream and marketable), has worked to generate awareness for the new movement through his site: “therunningbarefoot. om”. “The Running Barefoot,” self-proclaimed “the original Running Barefoot website on-line since 1997,” has set itself apart from other perhaps less-educational competition sites— sites that largely provide archives of race results and news for professionals (i. e. “Letsrun”)—as the “how-to” of barefoot running. Ken writes, “Running Barefoot is about LEARNING how to run, not so we can endure pain, but so that we can run, gently, efficiently, naturally, and comfortably over most any terrain.
Our bare soles, with thousands of nerve endings, provide the sensory feedback necessary to run sensibly” (Domain, “Who is this for? ”). While there is little scientific research to support many of Saxton’s claims; his logic and experience with the “subculture” that is barefoot running—has instigated a new style of running (a technique that is still largely based on individual trial and error). The majority of barefoot enthusiasts challenging conventional shoe ideologies (cushioning, stability, motion control) tend to focus predominantly (as one would expect) on scientific reports related to the foot.
According to research conducted by Daniel E. Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, “Habitually shod (runners wearing shoes) runners mostly rear-foot strike, facilitated by the elevated and cushioned heel of the modern running shoe” (Nature 2010). Lieberman’s research further indicates that “Rear-foot strikers (RFS) must repeatedly cope with the impact transient of the vertical ground reaction force, an abrupt collision force of approximately 1. -3 times body weight, within the first 50ms (milliseconds) of stance. ” A “major factor” contributing to the prevalence of rear-foot strikers in today’s running culture is “the cushioned sole of most modern running shoes, which is thickest below the heel, orienting the sole of the foot so as to have about 5 degrees less dorsiflexion than does the sole of the shoe,” thus allowing a runner to “comfortably” strike the heel prior to propulsion (Nature 2010).
Albeit a noteworthy analysis, Lieberman’s research has given firepower to barefoot enthusiasts who, by no fault of their own, appear to have made a few hasty generalizations. Ken Saxton writes, “Running barefoot is safer than running with sneakers. It’s easier on the body” (The Running Barefoot). Even if “safety” were a concern, it seems unlikely that barefoot running, what with the array of surfaces (concrete, cinder, pebble) we are exposed to, would pass a safety inspection.
Still, provided that “running is generally considered to have played no major role in human evolution”—it’s likely that the shoe industry (in combination with barefoot advocates) will, for some time, continue to influence popular opinion more than concrete, reliable research (Nature 2004). In an August 2004 issue of Runner’s World magazine, Amby Burfoot quoted England’s Bruce Tulloh: “The only reason that more people don’t run barefoot is that they’re afraid to be unconventional. Burfoot adds, “Famous runners had gone barefoot before us, of course. In 1960 Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila, won the first of his consecutive gold medals sans shoes in a world record 2:15:17. ” Though Burfoot and Tulloh’s points are relevant, there is a heavy bias that remains, attached to their competitive running accolades. Amby Burfoot was himself a competitive U. S. Marathoner, whose peak years came in the late 60’s and early 70’s when he won the Boston Marathon (1957) and competed twice in the Olympic Marathon (1956, 1960).
Likewise, when Bruce Tulloh and Abebe Bikila were breaking European records in the 50’s and 60’s; a greater number of runners were gunning for far lesser 5k and Marathon personal bests. Burfoot and other more renowned high-caliber, well-conditioned athletes are themselves exceptions to fundamental rules that govern mere mortals; And while competitive athletes do play a particularly vital role as ambassadors for the sport, their words (at times) are often too callous for the majority of recreational joggers or aspiring age-group winners.
In spite of the “fad” that has emerged in barefoot running; many doctors, coaches, and leaders of competing shoe industries are not entirely impressed. “Most of my patients aren’t world-class runners,” says foot doctor Stephen M. Pribut, DPM (based out of Georgetown, Washington, D. C. ). “It wouldn’t make sense for them to risk getting twigs and glass in their feet” (Burfoot 2004). Doctor Pribut, himself a runner who provides injury prevention advice via his website (drpribut. om), isn’t convinced minimalist running is as wholly advantageous as shoe companies, and barefoot advocates claim. “My goal is to do whatever it takes for my patients to run without pain,” he says. “If they have a perfect foot and barefoot running has been working for them, then OK, but for the vast majority of runners out there, I wouldn’t recommend it” (Sprinkle 2004). Fortunately, premier shoe companies such as Asics, Brooks, and Nike (for the most part) have not entirely come around to the idea of mass-producing complete lines of minimalist shoes.
Nevertheless, the minimalist approach continues to influence business strategy. When asked whether Brooks Sports (a leader in high performance shoes since 1914) would continue to endorse the minimalist approach to running; “National Guru Manager” Justin Dempsey-Chiam replied, “Brooks has been making shoes that accommodate the minimalist approach for years. We (Brooks) will continue to make shoes to provide the “perfect ride for every stride” and that will include footwear for those that adhere to a minimalist philosophy” (Interview, conducted May 2010).
Ostensibly, many companies have begun the process of tackling a diverging market with “transitional” shoes—shoes that follow a minimalist approach but still protect the foot from coarse asphalt and rocky terrain. “They’re not wrong in their assertion” (that a traditional running shoe encourages us to depend more on shoes for cushioning, and neglect our own natural mechanics for running), says Justin, “but the reality is: It would take the average American 2 years of never wearing shoes to strengthen their foot to the level of a kid that grew up in a 3rd world country, without shoes. In spite of his professional bias and with the hope that traditional running shoes do not become a fond memory of the past; Dempsey-Chiam and Brooks recognize the minimalist (not barefoot) “phenomenon” as “an opportunity to bring running as an activity/sport into mainstream discussion. ” Certainly, “The more people know, talk; think about running, the better for the footwear industry. Whether that requires us (Brooks) to create products that cater to that niche, that is something we will willingly accommodate, given a certain scope of the market. Of course, as Doctor Pribut does contend, “It’s one of those things that may be good for some, but is not ideal for most” (Sprinkle 2004). Works Cited Burfoot, Amby. “SHOUL YOU BE RUNNING BAREFOOT? ” Runners World. August 2004. Sprinkle, Tim. “The Truth About Barefoot Running”. May/June 2004. The Washington Running Report. Ken Bob, Barefoot. The Running Barefoot. 2010. <http://therunningbarefoot. com/? page_id=1209> Lieberman, Daniel E. Bramble, Dennis M. “Endurance running and the evolution of Homo”. Nature Publishing Group. Vol. 432. 18 Nov 2004. Liberman, Daniel E. ; Venkadesan, Madhusudhan; Werbel, William A. ; Daoud, Adam I. ; D’ Anrea, Susan; Davis, Irene S. ; Mang’ Eni, Robert Ojiambo; Pitsiladis, Yannis. “Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners”. 2010 Macmillan Publishers. Vol 463. Nature 28 January 2010.