Hot topic of the moment: Christopher Mcdougall’s recent book Born To Run, which I am currently reading, has stirred up a lot of dormant energy with extra focus on footwear, form and nutrition.
It seems to me that shoes offer protection from the tough environment of the city. Broken glass, sharp rusty metallic objects, chemicals, uneven surfaces, bacteria as well as temperatures and climactic conditions underlie a need for care and caution that have influenced the evolution of footwear for runners.
As the companies have explored that avenue competitively the search for niches examined all kinds of running needs from all kinds of runners. With proper advice and experimentation appropriate footwear can be found to cover 99% of runners needs. However, at the same time if the conditions are appropriate there is also no real reason why running barefoot should not cause a problem. It is quite likely that running barefoot on sandy beaches for example will help strengthen muscles not normally exercised in our day to day lives and of course a measured approach to not over-do it and create too much stress on muscles and ligaments unused to high workloads will facilitate an improved condition.
For most people wearing shoes is an entrenched habit one that saves us having to concentrate on where we put our feet as we walk. This is something that comes back to us when we walk or run unshod – an increased awareness of our physicality.
I dont think that my chosen running shoes have caused me any problems unless I was experimenting. Having said that I don’t have any really special needs apart from a preference for a wide toebox. In the multiday races I have run, the endless pounding makes the feet very sensitive and again I like a cushioned shoe to offer me the relief that that cushioning provides.
The old Pedestrians had no modern technology to help them yet their achievements still impress today so with conditioning and careful observation and right strategy we can adapt to most things including running barefoot, especially if there is real benefit in that approach.
Experiment for yourself.
American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Volume 1, Issue 12, Pages 1058-1063 (December 2009)
The Effect of Running Shoes on Lower Extremity Joint Torques
And of course check out Barefoot Ted the evangelist who has been promoting a simpler footwear approach for years with VFF and Huarache sandals.