Archive for February, 2010

How Myths are Perpetuated

There’s an AP story making the rounds right now in various newspapers. Here’s the Washington Post version. And here’s the text of the story, in full:

Montana convenience store bans hoodies, ski masks

MISSOULA, Mont. — A Montana convenience store manager who is tired of being robbed has expanded the “no shoes, no shirt, no service” dress code to include a ban on hoodies and ski masks.

Joe Salisbury is the longtime manager of Noon’s convenience store in Missoula. He decided to post a sign on the door telling customers that no hooded sweat shirts or ski masks are allowed after a rash of robberies by hoodie-wearing thieves.

Salisbury says several times over the past two weeks, late-night visitors wearing hoodies have dashed into his store to swipe a couple of cases of beer, sometimes making repeat visits wearing the same sweat shirts.

Salisbury says the ski mask ban goes without saying, but he had room on the sign and so added it on anyway.

Notice anything suspicious about the story?

It just assumes that the manager already had a “No shirt, No shoes, No service” sign, and added the “No hoodies, No ski masks” to the existing sign.


Here’s the sign:

No Hoodies, No Ski Masks

No Hoodies, No Ski Masks

What the sign does says is “REMOVE HOODS AND SKI MASKS BEFORE ENTERING THIS STORE.” There’s nothing there about shirts or shoes. That was just added by some cutesy reporter. You can see the original story, before it was picked up by AP, here. While that story also says something rather stupid about NSNSNS signs, it does not wrongly claim that there was a sign there that wasn’t.

Thus we see how the media feeds on and enhances myth-perceptions.

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I just wanted to highlight a posting that occurred on the Running Barefoot Yahoogroup. This comes from Wendy:

I had to see a podiatrist (for what turned out to be a skin issue related to my auto-immune issues, no connection to barefoot running) and spent most of the visit chatting with the doc about barefoot running. He was totally amazed at the muscle development in my feet and how perfect and flaw/callous free they were! The fact that I had run a 8 miler barefoot a couple of weeks before totally blew him away. All the usual questions were thrown out there, what about glass, grass, and goo, yadda yadda. Of course, everything made total sense and when I left he thanked me for an interesting visit and wished me the best with my barefoot running 🙂

Podiatrists get a lot of very good, specialized training, and almost all of it is based upon real science. However, when it comes to bare feet, there really is very little research and speculation has reached its way into their practices. We see that in many of the news articles that reach the media, in which the reporter talks to a podiatrist for “balance.” The truth is, very few podiatrists see people who go barefoot regularly, and most of the research in the podiatry world compares one kind of shoe against another kind of shoe (at least for long-term foot care).

It’s nice to see a podiatrist able to see and accept something that runs counter to some of that training.

Oh, and the title of this entry also came directly from Wendy. I fully endorse it!

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What’s Your Carbon Footprint?

Well, I don’t know. But, if you are a barefooter, I do know what’s not in your carbon footprint: shoes (or at least, no where near as many shoes as the non-barefooter).

According to this article, Running’s Impact on the Earth, from the November 2008 issue of Runner’s World, a pair of running shoes and socks has a carbon impact of around 170 pounds of CO2. Leather shoes fall in about the same range.

170 pounds is about the equivalent of driving 150 miles.

A lot, however, does depend on what type of shoe is being discussed. According to this Wall Street Journal article, Six Products, Six Carbon Footprints, shoes can run from 22 pounds up to 220 pounds, depending on how they are made. If you just have to wear something, flip-flops are pretty much the lowest, with some as low as 22 pounds of CO2 per pair.

Go barefoot. Go green.

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Barefoot Native Americans

The usual perception of the original Native Americans is as moccasin wearers. Obviously, a lot of this comes from movies and TV, and most of that comes from Westerns, in which the Indians* presented are Plains Indians from the mid- to late-1800s, long after the original meetings of Europeans and Native Americans.

However, there are accounts of many of the early meetings, and it is pretty clear that Native Americans went barefoot quite a lot. Think about it: even today getting leather wet can ruin it, and they did not have as advanced tanning techniques and materials as we have today. Moccasins were relatively expensive as far as labor went, so it would make sense that somebody trying to conserve them would go barefoot when possible and only use the moccasin when needed.

For instance, Le Page du Pratz, in his 1758 “Histoire de la Louisiane: contenant la découverte de ce vaste pays” (History of Louisiana: covering the discovery of this vast country), notes that, while they did wear moccasins:

Il eſt rare que les hommes ou les femmes portent des ſouliers, ſi ce n’eſt en voyage.

It is rare for men or women to wear shoes, unless they are traveling.

Note that, back then, Louisiana encompassed what we would call the whole Louisiana Territory, so we are not just talking southern climes here. (Also note that I’m having some fun showing the original printing, using the kind of “s” that looks like an “f”. You can tell the difference in that an “f” has the crossbar extending on both sides of the letter, while an “s only has a crossbar on the left.)

Du Pratz also provided a picture of what he called “Naturels en Eté”, or “Native in Summer”:

Native in Summer

Yup, that’s barefoot all right. (Image from Project Gutenberg.)

* These days it’s always a problem of what to call Native Americans. Most of the those I know do not mind the word “Indian”, so I will use it on occasion.

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Heel-toe Revisited

Earlier, we discussed whether barefooters should naturally walk with a heel-toe or a toe-heel stride. It is clear that the higher heel on a shoe automatically distorts whatever the natural barefoot gait would use.

We know from Dr. Lieberman’s research on running barefoot that the natural barefoot stride has the running landing either mid-foot or slightly on the fore-foot. This greatly reduces stresses on the body by more-or-less eliminating the transient created by the heel striking the ground.

Well, there is new research out on barefoot walking, and some of the differences between heel-toe and toe-heel walking. The study is The influence of foot posture on the cost of transport in humans, J Exp Biol 2010 213: 790-797, by C. B. Cunningham, N. Schilling, C. Anders, and D. R. Carrier. The paper appears in The Journal of Experimental Biology. The study does not look at the forces on the foot or the body, but instead looks at the efficiency of the two modes of walking.

According to the study, it takes about 53% more energy to walk on the balls of your feet than to heel-strike when walking. There’s a nice story on the the study at Physorg.com and another one in the Salt Lake Tribune. Note that this does not affect Dr. Lieberman’s results on barefoot running. When running, this newer study did not see any energy difference between rear-strike and fore-strike running.

So, how does this affect our earlier discussion, in which we noted that some barefooters walk heel-toe and others walk more toe-heel? For one thing, it does justify the discussion about the size of the calcaneal bone and the amount of padding beneath it. It really is more “natural” to walk with the heel hitting the ground first. However, even those who walk with hitting their heels first don’t really strike with their ball or their toes. At noted there, they tend to land mid-foot, with the heel coming down and a final, quick rotation of the foot on landing. I’m not sure just what that effect might have on energy efficiency, but I bet it is nowhere near as much as the effect for ball landing.

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Happy Valentine’s Day

Footy Heart

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Foot Care and Heel Cracks

Most people usually assume that the feet of barefooters are all “calloused”. However, the word the kind of “callous” that people think of is a localized thickened area of the skin, like a corn. Since corns are formed by the rubbing on the foot by the inside of a shoe, barefoot people don’t get those. What they do often get is a general broad thickening of the entire sole. This is the natural reaction of the glabrous skin there and it is how we evolved.

While barefooters are not subject to many of the foot maladies of the shod (like corns), they do get things like heel cracks. While one might suspect that heel cracks are a result of the thickening of the skin on the bottom of the foot, that surely cannot be the whole answer, since there are many, many shod people who get heel cracks. In fact, there is a whole industry and a plethora of products for heel cracks, and I guarantee they are not all being sold to barefooters.

Barefooters do have a lot of experience with keeping their feet in strong and supple condition, so we can offer a bit of advice regarding skin creams. One of the products that we particularly like is Neutrogena’s Norwegian Formula™ Hand Cream. Don’t let the “Hand” in the name fool you; it works just fine on feet. This product goes on quite thick and can take quite a while to get absorbed. It mainly contains glycerin as its moisturizer.

But many barefooters have found what we think is an even better skin moisturizer: lotions containing urea. Urea seems to allow the skin to retain its moisture better. Thus, one of the products we think does a superior job is Flexitol Heel Balm. It contains 25% urea. It’s not as messy as the Neutrogena when it goes on, and it leaves the thickened skin on the sole feeling like fine leather. It also does a very good job preventing cracks. Gold Bond Foot Cream is another product that contains urea (though I haven’t been able to find out what percent).

It’s really quite amazing what a positive difference the addition of urea makes.

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