Thursday, January 28, 2010

barefoot like hobbits

I heard a story on NPR today about how it is better for us to run barefoot than with shoes on. A professor of human evolutionary biology found that those who wore shoes hit their heel against the ground with dangerous force, while those who ran barefoot had a springy step and landed towards the middle or front of the foot. Apparently barefoot runners use about 4 percent less oxygen than those wearing shoes, and they appear to naturally compensate for the lack of cushioning and land more softly than runners in shoes. It is associated with a substantially lower prevalence of acute injuries of the ankle and chronic injuries of the lower leg. Did you know that runners who wear cheap running shoes have fewer injuries than those wearing expensive trainers. Meanwhile, injuries plague 20 to 80 percent of regular runners every year (Wired).
a heel-first strike in a traditional running shoe (left) compared to a midfoot strike in Vibram FiveFingers (right). Video: Michael Lennon/

I'm curious to try it, but then memories of elementary school come flooding back...

I frequently ran around barefoot back then, in the summertime, playing with other neighborhood kids. We would play sharks and minnows, flashlight tag, and make believe games where everyone wanted to be named 'Diana' and then later on 'John' (even the girls). Perhaps my memory exaggerates, but it seems like 3 out of every 5 times I ran down the road barefoot, I would stub my toe so badly that it was bleeding. I can think of some other reasons why barefoot running could be dangerous. Less injuries? I'm not so sure about that... Maybe will have to go for some minimalist footwear like Nike Free, the Newton All-Weather Trainer and the glove-like Vibram FiveFingers.


At 10:30 PM, Anonymous Ariella said...

i remember this one time years ago moira and i were rollerblading, then we went in the woods, and she took off her rollerblades because its hard to walk in the woods in rollerblades, and she stepped on the bottom half of a broken bottle. Not cool. Then again maybe it would be ok on the treadmill? the other day jake was walking on the treadmill barefoot and i was like "put on some shoes boy!" maybe he has the right idea!

At 8:04 PM, Blogger Noam said...

This is a main idea of the book Born to Run, which I gave your fiance. In it there's an ultramarathon runner who runs only barefoot. But realize before running barefoot, that your foot has atrophied in sneakers, and it takes time to build up again. The cheaper the shoes the better: just get some Converse.

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Moira said...

So, I just got back from the best run of my life. Its amazing how much better your own body is at running, without the shoes its like you've been unshackled - your legs and feet know exactly what to do and it feels so much better.

I was able to run for a mile (8 minute mile) and then sprint another half mile ...which isn't a long run for me, but the thing is I wasn't working nearly as hard as I would have been with shoes on.. the more natural motion really conserved a ton of energy!

I usually do about 3.5-4 miles, but I cut it short at 1.5 because my calves were getting sore. Thats the only down side, your legs are used to running with shoes and the muscles you use for natural running haven't gotten much use. I'm looking forward to building them up.

The Vibrams are good, they feel a little funny at first, with your toes all stuck in the little toe-slots.I hardly noticed them when I started running, and after showering and putting on my regular shoes, it was really uncomfortable to have my toes squished together again. The Vibrams are super light and the rubber protects your feet nicely from the pavement..I'm not sure they're worth the $80 I payed for them, but I'd recommend them anyway since running truly barefoot has some less-than-awesome side effects (like the glass Ariella mentioned..and possibly ugly feet calluses)

I went into this experiment rather skeptical, I certainly wasn't expecting such an improvement in performance - I've been running for 6 years now, and I'm pretty impressed.


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