Way back in 2000 I attended one of Tom Brown Jr.s tracking schools. I can’t believe I never blogged about it and while, one day, I will today I mention the school for another reason. Most of the course had as a central theme, opening up your senses to the world around you. Broaden your field of vision (literally, use your peripheral vision more frequently), breath deeply and register the smells around you (which I try to do everywhere but in WalMart where every time I go people seem to have bowel problems), listen rather than blunder through the woods and use your sense of touch. One speaker said it just didn’t make sense to encase your feet with big, clunky hiking boots on when taking a trip into the woods (or anywhere I suppose) because you’re essentially cutting off one of five senses. Would you put an eye patch on before hiking? How about ear plugs? So, why boots? He then recommended taking a minimalist approach and hiking with the thinest footware you could find (or even going barefoot) so that you could feel the ground beneath you.
I thought the concept was interesting so the following summer I bought a cheap pair of moccasins, ripped out the .25 insole and tried them. I took them hiking and running all over and, much to my surprise, the guy was right. Hiking became more interesting and pleasurable when I could feel the ground under me and see who wet or dry it was or rocky or sandy it was. Running was pretty fun too. I kept to dirt trails but there was a feeling of freedom running in that way and getting direct sensory feedback from the terrain I was sprinting (ok, jogging) over.
But, alas, my moccasins weren’t made for that sort of punishment and in short order were shredded. While my experiment was fun, I had neither the money or inclination to go out and purchase new ones every couple of months and I reverted to my old hiking/running shoe ways.
Fast forward to today…
About a week ago I stumbled upon this article on Wired which argues that all the hubub we’ve been fed that if we’re planning on running we need shoes with gel, air pockets, pumps or other gimmicks may be bunk. Not just that, there are some people arguing that the idea of running shoes are misguided.
These radicals are proposing barefoot running by asserting that our bodies actually evolved to run without running shoes and therefore we should take a minimalist approach to footwear.
Dr Daniel Lieberman, professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, has been studying the growing injury crisis in the developed world for some time and has come to a startling conclusion: ‘A lot of foot and knee injuries currently plaguing us are caused by people running with shoes that actually make our feet weak, cause us to over-pronate (ankle rotation) and give us knee problems.
‘Until 1972, when the modern athletic shoe was invented, people ran in very thin-soled shoes, had strong feet and had a much lower incidence of knee injuries.’
So what’s the solution? Well, Vibram is proposing this.
They cost between $75 and $90 but you can get them for under $50 if you don’t mind getting a close out. I did just that and got a pair yesterday. The color is unfortunate (‘Smurf blue’ my wife tells me) but hey, you want the cheap price you don’t get your favorite color.
I took them on a four mile run yesterday along the Delaware Raritan Canal path and it was a great experience. The shoes are comfortable and protect your feet while still giving amazing traction and feel for the ground underneath you. The reviews I read of them all say that switching over from traditional running shoes mean you actually have to change the length of your stride a bit (shorter) and instead of doing the old heel-toe run your foot should strike the ground in the midfoot range. I found that if I didn’t concentrate on my stride my body naturally adjusted to the new gait and by the second have of my run I was well into the swing of things. It’s too hot this afternoon but another run tomorrow morning is in order.
The biggest negative about these shoes is their appearance which is very different from anything else you might see along your favorite running route. So long as you don’t have a delicate self esteem you won’t have a problem. Perhaps, people will just think you’re an Olympian in training using the latest space-age running technology and they’ll ask you for an autograph.
But if they get out the pitchforks and torches, take some comfort that at least you’ll be comfortable running away from that angry mob.