I’ve been a runner since my college days (late 80s) but the last few years my ankles have been acting up so I haven’t been able to partake in my hobby much.
Way back in 2007 I came across these ugly monsters, the Vibram Five Finger shoe.
At the time, they were just being marketed as “sport shoes” to feel more natural in. But over the years, barefoot runners have discovered they are pretty awesome to run in. And luckily, they’ve gotten a lot cuter besides!
I tried a pair on once about a year ago, but I still had the fear in my head that running companies have drummed in for years:
YOU MUST HAVE PROPER CUSHIONING OR YOU WILL BE INJURED!!!
As someone who pronates (I strike on the outside and roll in), I was “told” by the running shoe industry that I must have this “corrected” and must wear a “motion control” shoe that compensates for it. I’ve always had problems with weak ankles, and even though I have been wearing motion control shoes, my ankles still give me problems. And lately I’ve been having FOOT problems as well.
What started this? Well, I moved to New York city. I no longer drive a car. My transportation is….my feet. So it makes sense that any mechanical problems i have are going to be exacerbated by this situation. What I am starting to suspect though, is that all these years of wearing cushioning and over correcting has weakened my ankles and feet. They are not strong enough to take on the pounding I am now giving them in New York. The last podiatrist I saw said “I think it’s time to put you into custom orthotics.” When he told me this, I remember thinking,
IF YOU GET ORTHOTICS, YOUR FEET WILL GET EVEN MORE STUPID.
I did some physical therapy, and my therapist kept concentrating on how important it was to strengthen everything, not just my foot. She recommended core strengthening, hip exercises, and learning to walk better (apparently i have a very sloppy/clunky walk).
Just as I started absorbing this, i started becoming aware of research that confirms that your foot is more awesome than any damn running shoe.
Your foot knows best
Check out this picture of someone from Africa who has never worn shoes. By our standards in the western world, his feet look HUGE! But they’ve never been jammed into shoes! His toes are splayed out, and he has a very firm base on which to walk/run.
amazing, isn’t it?
The theory is pretty much this: your feet are amazing.
Heck, your BODY is amazing. But what we’ve done by wearing overcushioned shoes is essentially make our feet NUMB. They no longer have contact with the ground. Without that contact information, our feet can’t properly “talk” with our bodies and make sure we are balanced and in harmony.
There’s a word for this: proprioception. Well, it’s more than just our feet – but proprioception is a word that describes how our body is aware of itself in a space.
So what’s the solution? Minimal footwear.
Ideally, we’d all go barefoot everywhere. But speaking for myself, I’m not quite ready. I ran around barefoot when I was a little kid, and I remember it took time to build up “calluses” that allowed me to even walk on gravel without pain. But that was out in the country, on green grass and dusty roads without pollution. But I live in New York city and the idea of going barefoot around just sounds gross. I’m going to go the minimalist footwear route first.
So, I just ordered a pair of “minimalist footwear” that actually look like cute little moccasins. I’ll be writing more about my transition to “barefoot running” in the next few months! I’m excited!