Before the Nikes, before the breathable, antimicrobial running shorts, before the personal fitness coaches, heart rate monitors, wrist-mounted GPS and subscriptions to Runner’s World, you were a runner.
And, like all children, you ran barefoot.
Now, a small but growing body of research suggests that barefoot is the way adults should run, too. So, many runners have been shucking off the high-tech trainers in favor of naked feet — or minimalist footwear like Nike Free, the Newton All-Weather Trainer and the glove-like Vibram FiveFingers.
“People have been running barefoot for millions of years and it has only been since 1972 that people have been wearing shoes with thick, synthetic heels,” said Daniel Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University.
Strong evidence shows that thickly cushioned running shoes have done nothing to prevent injury in the 30-odd years since Nike founder Bill Bowerman invented them, researchers say. Some smaller, earlier studies suggest that running in shoes may increase the risk of ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis and other injuries. Runners who wear cheap running shoes have fewer injuries than those wearing expensive trainers. Meanwhile, injuries plague 20 to 80 percent of regular runners every year.
But the jury’s still out on whether going barefoot is actually an improvement.
“The running shoe right now is doing nothing for preventing injuries,” said Reed Ferber, director of the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology. But, he adds, going barefoot has downsides too, and the research so far is still inconclusive. “It’s a total tradeoff.”
Barefoot? I think not… too much sharp junk out there on the trails… but I’d like top try some of those Five Fingers.