Running Forward

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Barefoot Running is Not For Me

I remember when I first started seeing those “five-fingered” shoes on people. They looked like socks or something.

“What are those?” I finally asked an acquaintance one day. He had worn a pair to a party.

“Oh, they’re my running shoes. I didn’t have time to change,” he replied.

Sure he didn’t.

I was confused, though, because they didn’t look like any of the running shoes I was used to seeing. He told me he was a big fan, that he actually sold them and proceeded to give me the elevator pitch on why they were the best thing to ever happen to running. I thought he was a bit nuts. I admit I might still.

The controversy surrounding minimalist and barefoot running continues, with both sides presenting their arguments. In a nutshell, minimalists (those in favor of next-to-nothing running shoes) and barefoot runners (it is what it sounds like) love to point out that the human foot has been perfected over time, and that our ancestors likely ran over all kinds of terrain without wearing shoes.

Barefoot runners also argue that shoes disrupt our natural stride, don’t allow the muscles in our feet to fully develop, and can even encourage poor running form, since a runner may think nothing of striking the ground with his or her heel (a big no-no) while wearing shoes with heavy heel cushioning.

On the other side of this debate are the traditionalists — myself, and other runners who prefer modern running shoes and who make up the majority of the running community. Our argument is that modern running shoes can actually offset or at least correct, to some extent, faulty running form, such as overpronation or underpronation, that could otherwise lead to short- or long-term injuries.

Traditionalists also point out that barefoot running requires exceptional technique in order to avoid injury — a commitment most people don’t know how to make, or just don’t care to make correctly. The results of trying to transition (whether correctly or incorrectly) your stride to a barefoot style can be injurious. Not to mention, shoes protect feet from rocks, litter and whatever other hazards lie on the path.

I am not a barefoot runner. At most, I might be interested in a more minimal running shoe that keeps my feet strong. But I can’t wrap my head around the idea of just pulling off my shoes and socks and heading out for a run.

Maybe if I were always running in a vacuum I would be able to get onboard with all the positives claimed by barefoot runners. But running without shoes just doesn’t seem practical for me in this urban environment.

I’m not going to walk into any gym, pull off my shoes and hop on the treadmill for all my fellow gym-goers to enjoy the stench of my labors. (Because let’s not forget, foot sweat is a whole different kind of gym sweat, and this is one of the functions of shoes: they’re stench-trappers.) I’m also not going to enjoy a jog along the streets of Phoenix as I take every step in fear of not just traffic, but also of a foot full of glass, gravel, nails, trash or who knows what else — never mind the heat in the summer.

Personally, I think a compromise is the way to go: a modern shoe that provides cushioning in strategic places specific to my stride, while also remaining light enough and thin enough to let my feet do some serious work and stay strong. That’s what I’m going to keep lacing up.

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