Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Monkey Toes Revisited

Okay, a return to the minimalist shoe/barefoot running track ...

First, the So what? shrug: I'm not a runner any more. Long ago and far away, I trained to run Boston, back where there were only two marathons of note in the country, there and the New York version, and I was doing six miles a day and ten miles on the weekends. I had to quit due to an injury, but it wasn't because of my shoes, it was because a drunk leaving the Federations of Eagles Christmas party almost ran me down and when I leaped off the road to keep from being hit, I stepped into a hole in somebody's front lawn and badly sprained my ankle. 

It is unlikely any shoe I could have been wearing would have helped in that situation. You can sprain an ankle wearing combat boots.

That unhappy event put me in a cast for six weeks and I missed the window for Boston. (I'm not sure I would have made it anyway, since the cutoff for a number was three hours, and I wasn't there yet.)

Once we moved to Oregon, I discovered that running and ice storms don't go together, and instead took up swimming a mile or so a day, in a nice, heated pool ... inside. I did that until my hair turned green and I started to develop scales and gills ...

So whether the cushion under my heel in the cross-trainers is better or worse than the flat-foot arch-as-spring support doesn't matter vis a vis me running, 'cause I ain't gonna be running.

I do, however, walk a mile or two every day at Corgi pace, which is actually fairly brisk compared to an amble or stroll. 

I am here to tell you that wrestling shoes don't make my feet happy for that activity, not upon concrete sidewalks. 

To those who say I haven't given it enough time? Yes, I have. How long does one need to suffer aching feet in order to get back to where one was in the first place?

Frankly, I don't see a lot of science on either side of this argument. The studies that get waved by the pro versus those bruited by the anti tend to be more anecdotal than evidentiary. 

Yeah, yeah, we didn't evolve with shoes on our feet. Neither did we evolve wearing trousers, hats, leather jackets, or wristwatches. "Natural" is an overused and, given how we deal with the world, fairly silly term to use when trying to justify diet, exercise, or iPads. Move along–droids aren't natural. 

For every claim that the heel strike is a no-no, there are those who say bare feet have caused a dramatic rise in stress fractures. A bad knee here gets swapped for a fallen arch there. A lot of, "Yes, but–" going on.

Where does bad technique end and kinds of shoes begin? How does weighing one-forty matter compared to weighing two hundred? 

Back when I started running, I didn't see any other guys out doing it. (Louisiana, in the summer? I can't imagine why.) I didn't even know any other serious joggers. The Runner's World shoe issue ran two pages. Now, everybody and her kid sisters are out shuffling up and down the road, and a lot of them aren't in good enough shape to be doing that without courting injury. Not only is barefoot running not for everybody, any kind of running is not for everybody. If you are morbidly obese, haven't done any exercise in years, and you decide to strap on shoes of any stripe and try for a couple miles? Might do you more harm than good.

Yep, we can point to this guy: Hey, he won the Marathon back in the day, running barefoot!

And then he won it again four years later at a faster time, only this time wearing shoes ...

What we have on both sides are Believers, and they tend to hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest. 

Both sides point at the other and cry "Unclean! Unclean!" and it seems to me that there is a middle ground. In some folks, barefoot running, or minimal shoes help; in some, they don't. Some folks can run in padded shoes just fine, others have problems. When I was running forty miles a week, I didn't have foot or knee problems. I did pull my back once, but the only thing it had to do with my shoes was that I bent and twisted at the same time to re-tie one lace, and that was my fault, moving in two planes with a tight back. And even then, I could have worn Velcro closures.

Of course, I was thirty and not sixty-three. I weighed about 180, and now I'm fifteen pounds heavier and have had some internal knee padding removed, secondary to a non-running, non-shoe injury. Size matters. Age matters. 

I'm happy to go shoeless in the summer, on nicely-mowed laws, in the sandpit–though there is some discussion that walking in sand barefoot isn't all that good, either–and upon surfaces where I am less likely to encounter sharp pebbles or broken glass. Otherwise, when I trip the concrete byways, I'm going to do so clad in a real shoe. 

A few places you can see the edges of the argument:

Bare feet, hurray!

Bare feet, maybe! 

Bare feet, No way!

Do your own research and make your decision, if it matters. I have ...


Scott said...

I love my VFFs, wear them every day; they make my feet strong, balanced... great shoes. But I don't think they'd be suitable for running, let alone racing. Or hiking with a heavy ruck. Those Tarahumara guys are small, I'm 210.

Dan Gambiera said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan Gambiera said...

I don't know about barefoot running, but walking around in minimal shoes or VFF has helped my weird feet develop a (tiny) arch for the first time ever, and they don't hurt nearly as much during Silat. But that's an anecdotal sample of one with feet that are medically-certified as abnormal.

Anonymous said...

Running with minimalist shoes on concrete is not advised by most of the "barefoot" advocates I don't think.

As concrete wasn't a part of nature way back when.

joycemocha said...

Given my capsulitis, and that seven years of teaching on tile over concrete floors have trashed my feet...I'm in the no barefoot way column. I need more padding than that.

Ski boots, OTOH, work just fine for the cranky feet. But alpine skiing works your feet without impact stress. Wish I'd learned that years ago as it's been great for the bum hip as well.

Steve Perry said...

When it comes to anecdotes yours will be better than mine, and vice-versa, since they are personal. If it works for you, how can I argue that? Unless there is evidence that you are missing something and I can show it to you.

My problem is when somebody offers that their path is the best-only-one-true way without any evidence past that it works for them.

Want to get rid of a wart? Swing a dead cat three times around your head in the graveyard at midnight. Works every time. Well, that's what I heard ...

When somebody says, Padded running shoes cause more problems than they prevent, my response is, Really? Prove it.

Well, this guy in Germany did a study of nine college boys and that's what it showed!

Not nearly enough.

The hardcore barefoot guys run on the sidewalks that way, in the snow, through the dog turds and gravel and broken glass. FIne by me if Bugs and Porky and Daffy want to do that, but if they are trying to convince me and the rest of the world that this is better than wearing shoes, I need to see verification and substantiation that it's *more* beneficial, not just as good. As a barefoot guy, I have filled my soles with stickers, sliced them open on broken glass, and stubbed toes painfully. None of that happens with the Costco specials upon my tootsies.

Not enough to stay in the ring with the champ, you have to beat him to win the title. Barefootin' down the sidewalk has yet to be show to be superior to Nike, as far as I can see. It might be so, but I haven't seen it.

Burden of proof lies on the affirmative.