The New York Times recently had an article about barefoot running. It’s actually a pretty favorable article, and goes over the running shoe research that shows that all of the fancy running shoe technology doesn’t seem to have done a thing to reduce running injuries.
For a while most newspaper articles covered more general barefooting, like this article on barefoot hiking, but more recently it seems like there is more coverage for barefoot running. I suspect the reason is that barefoot runners are just more “out there”. There are marathons or even just 5K runs quite often, and a barefoot runner is pretty obvious to the reporters covering those events.
Back to the NY Times article . . . It discusses the research, and then talks about some of the minimal footwear, such as the Nike Free and the Vibram Five Fingers. Of course, these are shoes, not barefoot! They may do less damage than regular shoes, but as the guru of barefoot running, Ken Bob Saxton, of the site Running Barefoot says, only running barefoot teaches you to run barefoot. Wearing any sort of footwear only teaches you to run with that footwear, and prevents you from correcting bad technique.
Of course, any newspaper article would be incomplete without the “he said, she said” technique that passes for journalism these days. (That is, instead of actually looking at the data and trying to pick out the truth, all journalism these days seems to do is to find two opposing points of view, air them, and let the readers decide for themselves.) This article quotes a Dr. Maharam, who is the medical director for the New York Road Runners, that is, the New York Marathon. From the article:
“In 95 percent of the population or higher, running barefoot will land you in my office,” said Dr. Lewis G. Maharam, medical director for the New York Road Runners, the group that organizes the New York City Marathon. “A very small number of people are biomechanically perfect,” he said, so most need some sort of supportive or corrective footwear.
Dr. Maharam somehow seems to think that evolution produced feet that are fundamentally incapable of doing their job. Now, of course, probably the only feet he’s ever seen are feet that have spent most of their time in shoes, so those feet have the usual litany of problems that shod feet often have: misshapen toes, bunions, corns, fallen arches, etc. If you think about it, the folks who are “biomechanically correct” are probably those who have never worn shoes in their lives. And you can add to that those who go barefoot and thereby strengthen all the muscles and tendons and bones of the feet.
But the proof is in the research. Dr. Maharan cannot cite any research to support his views. Oh, sure, he can show research that shows that one sort of arch support may be better than some other arch support, but I’ve never seen the study that compares that against simply going barefoot. And, as the article points out, there is a growing body of barefoot runners, all doing just fine in their running, and all having feet of different shapes and sizes.