To Bare or not to Bare – this is a good question. A food for thought blog by Jim

Since early this year, I have been preparing to run a marathon.  It is this coming weekend and it will be my first.  My primary objective is just to finish. My secondary objective is to average a meager 10 km/h.  The first should be attainable. The second will be the challenge.  During the hours spent training, my mind often wanders and often it comes to a familiar theme related to me pounding the pavement.  Hence this blog…

Over the last year or two, a common topic of discussion amongst biomechanists in particular, sports scientists in general, and the greater running community at large has been about barefoot running.  As a rough overview, those in favour of barefoot running state that since the advent of high tech running shoes, running gait has altered with a change to predominant heel strike from a mid foot/toe strike action.  Those in favour of high tech shoes state that the greater cushioning effect of these shoes lessens the incidences of injury. 

At the moment, I am a bit of a fence sitter about this issue. Is it true that our change to heel strikers because of the type of shoes we wear creates a different gait to what we have evolved?  Is it true that wearing cushioning shoes reduces injury rates? Both are possibly correct, or maybe partially correct.  How do we find out?  Perhaps it is time for a comprehensive study to be carried out to determine these and the many other issues associated with the debate. 

Anecdotally, running times (e.g. world records and overall race times) have dropped significantly with the onset of high tech gear.  It has been said that the great distance runners of today – the Ethiopians and Kenyans grow up training and running around in bare feet.  This may be the case but I am not sure.  However, I have never seen any of the great racers on the world stage in anything but high tech shoes.

I think we can measure how long over a lifetime people could/can run for – pre and post the onset of high tech shoes.  There must be records that can be measured to answer this, or at least give a fair indication.  Maybe it is incorrect to wear shoes that alter our gait from what we had evolved.  If this is the case, it may possibly be more important to look at other areas that may have adverse effects from our evolutionary path.  A prime example is the use of backpacks, especially when we laden our children with heavy bags that affect not only their gait, but also their posture – and this in their developmental growing years.  Perhaps our evolutionary path was not a good one.  Over the eons, how many people were crippled from the way we naturally walked?  Yes it is a rhetorical question, but worth thinking about.

It almost looks that by writing this blog, my opinion may have shifted a little from a fence sitter to climbing down the high tech shoe side.  However my opinion that I have only marginally expressed has been confirmed.  that is, we do need to look at this.  There does need to be research carried out – both in the historical records and on current footwear.  This research should be on the high tech running shoes and also on the “barefoot shoes” (is that an oxymoron?) so we know where we currently stand and which direction we should take (no pun intended) 

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