Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Look Into Barefoot Running

As you all know, I'm fairly new to the running arena.  What I'm not new to is knowledge of proper footwear for specific jobs and sports.  A wise woman once said (paraphrased) 'You should always use the proper tool for the proper job' (this wise woman is Martha Stewart in reference to her fine work in the kitchen).  I realize her advice may be a bit simple and obvious but that same advice should be used across all parts of our lives.  If you need to dig a hole to plant a tree would you use a snow shovel?  If you needed to paint a wall would you use a hair brush? If you wanted to take ballet classes would you purchase steel toed work boots? No, no and no!

As I mentioned above, I'm not new to the knowledge of  proper footwear for specific jobs and sports.  A little about my background...  My father, Ted Colaizzi, is a Certified Pedorthist (C. Ped.).  What does Certified Pedorthist mean? Let's first define Pedorthic - (ped-or'-thiks) -the design, manufacture, modification and fit of footwear, orthotics and devices to alleviate foot problems caused by disease, overuse, or injury. A C. Ped. has fulfilled and maintains specific educational requirements to be certified by the Board for Certification in Pedorthics (BCP).  Without getting all preachy, and just to illustrate how involved my family is within the Pedorthics and just to further illustrate why I know what I know and why I have decided to write about this today...  

My parents (along with my late grandfather) have owned and operated their business servicing the foot and ankle community for over 75 years.  As a child growing up in a household where my parents owned their own business, an evening never passed without a conversation between my parents about what happened at the store today.  I got to know the regulars and quite a few technical terms just because of the conversation.  Because of that conversation I believe that I have a much deeper understanding of how the food and ankle function and I even understand the logic behind how to treat minor issues. With this knowledge I also learned that the proper shoe for the job was not just a preference but a necessity.  Running is one of those necessities.  

Back in May after I spent a few months watching a few friends train for the Pittsburgh Marathon (half and relay) as you know I bit the bullet and decided to give Couch to 5K a shot.  BUT while most people might have just laced up their old sneaks and get out on the road, I threw up the caution sign and called my dad.  I asked if running shoes and their internal support could break down after years of getting dusty in a closet.  His answer was YES.  I then told him my plan and a little about the program and he solidified my urge to wait until I had the proper shoes and told me to come in so that I could be fitted for a new pair.  

As most of you know, when I get a crazy hair up my arse to do something 9 times out of 10 I want to run out and do it NOW, right this minute!  I had to wait a week and a half before I got my new shoes... My dad didn't have my wide width in stock (understandable really) so I had to wait for the order to arrive.  I was so geeked when my shoes came in that I drove over there THAT day to pick them up so that I could start C25K that afternoon.

A few weeks into C25K I started to see other bloggers mention a book called "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall.  These blogs and the book mention barefoot running.  I was intrigued to say the least but not because I wanted to try it.  This coming from the girl who can barely walk around the cement pool deck for fear that I MIGHT step on a pebble or that the cement might be too hot.  I wanted to read more because I felt there may be some folks out there who might think these ideas sound like good ones (which in a way they kinda do good) but if executed poorly they could result in serious injury. 

So I started to read.  I will admit I didn't read the entire book (I haven't read for pleasure in years due to lack of time why start now....) but I read large portions (there is a LOT of story telling and I skipped over some).  In short the book's author decided to follow a hidden tribe of runners who are known to be superathletes.  Barefoot running is their game as is harsh dessert conditions and distances like you would never believe.  The book and the stories were admittedly interesting and enjoyable but the barefoot running suggestions is downright scary.  

It is suggested that as we evolved as humans we all ran barefoot.  And yes that is a fact.  They suggest that this new barefoot movement is a throwback to how we are supposed to run and that the addition of running shoes actually harms our body's inherent ability to run correctly.  Step back and think about that for a second.  It makes sense right?   I will admit, it kinda does.  However with a second look, it's easy to realize that it really doesn't make much sense at all.  Consider this, as we evolved there were desserts, grassy fields, beaches and dirt paths.  No roads, no paved trails, no tracks.  Impact on those surfaces even if they were harder like dessert, does not compare with the hardness of a brick street or asphalt trail or paved road.  Foot/heel and ankle impact on these man made surfaces play a HUGE role in the current injuries that will occur from barefoot running.  

Barefoot running is something that if you are interested in trying will take a LOT of conditioning and commonsensical thought about how and where you plan to train.  Instead of going completely barefoot consider wearing a pair of Vibram's, take training slow slow slow.  As runners I'm pretty certain we are all pretty in tune with our bodies and can feel it immediately when something goes wrong.  If you start to feel pain, stop.  See a doctor and put your running shoes back on.  

I've talked to my father about this topic quite a bit and we both are in the agreement that it's not a smart idea.  Injury is inevitable and the risk is not worth it.  Heck the risk of injury is high as a runner to start with, why would you want to put more risk into it? 

1 comment:

Esther Stanley said...

I fully agree with you. I think barefoot running is too risky, though there are new studies about the advantages and health benefits on going barefoot, I still don't buy it.

I'd rather wear barefoot shoes like Vibram Five Fingers or Kigo Shel as these shoes cam emulate barefoot running. Not to mention it also provides protection to our feet against unwanted objects.

By the way, you might want to take a look at my site. I have a huge collection of different barefoot shoes. Check it out here.