Friday, January 29, 2010

More on barefoot running

(Courtesy of Mohan the Great)

I have posted a previous article on this subject of barefoot running - click here fore the link. You can also see my conclusions at the end of the post which I found quite entertaining re-reading them.

I've added my conclusions at the end of this post too for what it's worth.



Jury still out on whether barefoot running trend is beneficial
by Mary Beth Faller - Jan. 24, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Running barefoot is as old as humanity. We ran barefoot for thousands of years before shoes were invented.

But barefoot running has become more popular lately, due mainly to Christopher McDougall's best-selling book "Born to Run," which describes the barefoot-running Tarahumara tribe of Mexico and its mystical ultra-marathoning lifestyle.

Though there weren't throngs of barefoot runners at last week's P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon and 1/2 Marathon, more people are interested in barefoot coaching seminars and "barefoot"-like footwear.

The trend can also be tied to a backlash against running-shoe companies that pile on ever-increasing and costly amounts of padding and gel while pulling favorite models off the market to encourage stockpiling.

"One thing that annoyed me about running shoes is that they kept changing," said Andrew Holtum of Phoenix, who runs barefoot. "I'd be disappointed when I'd find a shoe I liked, and by the third iteration it would be something different."

Advocates say that running shoeless produces a more efficient gait, reduced impact and fewer injuries.

Patty Egan, a physical-education teacher and head cross-country coach at Cactus Shadows High School in Cave Creek, has her runners go barefoot.

"About twice a week, we have our cross-country kids finish their workout at the football field - the only nice grass to be found - to run 200 to 1,000 meters of barefoot running," she said. "When the foot spends most of the day in a restrictive shoe, the small muscles, tendons and ligaments can weaken from lack of use. Getting out and running barefoot, when introduced in a progressive manner, can give the runner a chance to build the strength back up."

For others, bare feet are more about freeing the spirit.

The guru of the movement, Ted McDonald, known and revered as Barefoot Ted, was featured prominently in "Born to Run," although he has been sharing his passion for au naturel running for years.

"We were not born broken," he said. "So many people have been led to believe that their feet are broken appendages, and (that) if we could have them removed at birth that would be better, but since we can't, we'll cast them up in shoes and await their demise."

Science lacking
Not everyone agrees, including Lewis Maraham, a New York City physician and medical director for the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon. He sees few barefoot runners at the Rock 'n' Roll races.

"You can run barefoot if, from the moment you were born, you never wore shoes," Maraham said. "Running barefoot isn't going to relieve what your parents gave you."

Most people have biomechanical issues to their gait that need to be corrected before they cause overuse injuries, he said. "People need shoes for structure."

American running icon Frank Shorter, who won the 1972 Olympic marathon gold medal, said: "Everyone who's ever looked at my feet has said, 'How do you run?' I was born with very bad feet. I run with shoes."

"Born to Run" author McDougall talked to several experts on biomechanics before concluding that "running shoes may be the most destructive force to ever hit the human foot."

But there's not enough science to prove - or disprove - that. Podiatric groups haven't taken a stand on barefoot running because evidence is lacking, thus there are no definitive conclusions.

David Jenkins, a professor in the podiatric medicine program at Midwestern University in Glendale, recently reviewed dozens of studies.

"Advocates say that barefoot runners have less injuries, but we haven't been able to prove that yet," he said. "My gut feeling is that some of the perceived benefits are real, but I can't say for sure."

Removing shoes would give a runner a shorter, quicker stride, Jenkins said. "There might be less impact but that impact would have to go somewhere, maybe into the muscles and joints instead of the heel."

The most important factor for those who want to try running barefoot is to work up to it gradually, he said.

David Cauthon, one of Jenkins' students at Midwestern, worked on the review of studies and started running barefoot last May, after finishing the Boston Marathon.

"I would go out for a 3- or 4-mile run, and at the end I would take off my shoes and do half a mile," he said. Other than some blisters, he was injury free.

"I had read a lot about how you automatically change your gait to shorten your stride and reduce your impact, and I was still surprised at how quickly that occurred - in the first 50 meters. Your body seems to know what you're trying to do."

A glove for the foot
Jenkins would like to survey runners to see how many run barefoot and why. "That might steer us toward ideas for actual research."

Rather than going barefoot, some runners choose the next closest thing - wearing form-fitted socklike coverings that protect the skin but provide no support. One of the most popular is the Vibram FiveFingers.

Phoenix-based Runner's Den manager Ron French said he has fielded dozens of customer requests for the FiveFingers over the past few months, and the product is so popular that Vibram can't fill orders until March.

"It's created a buzz in the running community, and I think it's a good training tool for people to do foot drills on grass," he said.

As someone who has been in the running business a long time, French has seen the FiveFingers fall prey to the same "cool factor" as other footwear.
"I've already seen people at the mall wearing them."

Barefoot-runner Holtum has taken his footwear into his own hands. He makes running sandals out of utility floor mats from Home Depot, polypropylene rope and duct tape. Each pair, which resembles flip-flops with a heel binding, costs him about $2.

"The design is simple, cheap, consistent and comfortable," said Holtum, 52, an engineer. He can customize the sandals for trails and to compensate for one leg being a bit shorter.

"Running shoes are good at making the foot land exactly the same way each time. It's not about the impact, it's about repetitive motion," he said. "When running with sandals, I'm constantly altering my foot strike to dodge things or compensate for terrain, so every foot strike is a little different than the next."

Holtum said the sandals have helped him to regain the fluid running style of his youth.

"It's quiet. There's no weight on your feet."

Barefoot Ted, whose coaching seminars have exploded in popularity since the release last year of "Born to Run," tells his clients to think about why the bottoms of their feet have so many nerve endings.

"It's to deal with what's happening with grace and form and strength," he said. "It's a joy to run."

Born to Run: Christopher McDougall Says Humans Evolved to Run Like the Tarahumara
By Katherine Hobson
Posted: April 28, 2009

Like many runners, journalist Christopher McDougall got hurt. A lot. And like many of those injured runners, he was told that his aches and pains were a natural consequence of his chosen form of exercise. "Running," one doctor told him, "is your problem." McDougall didn't accept that—especially after reading about the Tarahumara Indians, who live in Mexico's Copper Canyons and run like stink, on shoes McDougall compares to flip-flops. He set out to learn from the Tarahumara. After years of research, he concluded that "persistence hunting"—a combination of tracking and endurance running over many miles at a time—was the human race's original, and best, form of exercise. He chronicles his journey of discovery in Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95). Here's an edited version of our conversation.

How strong is the evidence that we evolved to run long distances?
I'm really leery anytime someone pops up to say we evolved to do X. But [the idea of being evolved to run] is one piece that seems to snap into place and solve a lot of different paradoxes. Several things have been anomalies in sports and science for a lot of years. Why do women get stronger as distances get longer? When you look at a 100-meter dash, a marathon, and a 100-mile race, women go from being out of contention, to in contention, to winning.

Then there was a study done by scientists who tracked the averaging finishing time in marathons. They found if you start running at age 19, you get faster until you peak at 27 and then gradually get slower—but it takes decades for you to slow down until you're where you were when you were 19. Why do old people have the speed of younger ones? Why do women perform so well over long distances? It all tends to congregate on superendurance. These societies needed experienced guys who knew how to track, and young guys to kill the prey. And women with children had to be there, because they need protein the most.

Then there's the architecture of the human body. We are very specialized—we have a ligament in the back of our head [that keeps our head steady when we run]. We have the Achilles tendon [an anatomical spring] and big butts [that keep us from losing our balance when we run]. And when you come up against the Tarahumara, you start to see these weird things—no crime, no violence, no problems with high cholesterol, no depression, almost nonexistent cancer rates.

What makes the rest of us biologically different from the Tarahumara?
They're us, rid of fleshly indolence! They're genetically identical—they have nothing more or less than we have. The only difference is that they're much better practiced at using their stock parts.

A lot of people out there argue against aerobic exercise in favor of short sprints and strength training. Why is it such a heated debate?

People become attached to whatever they believe in. It's almost inarguable that distance running, as a starting point, is good. If you want to add in resistance training—sure! And as far as the way we do endurance sports, I agree [with the critics]. The way we measure how we run is to hit the stopwatch and go hard for two hours. When modern people try to use that technique in a persistence hunt, they collapse. But look at ultra runners. They walk up hills. When you're on a trail, the footing is unsure, you have to leap over trees. The terrain forces you to, on occasion, slow down. I suspect it's much more in line with how our bodies were designed to operate, never going into oxygen depletion or experiencing low sugar. The Tarahumara go very long on very little fuel. They're burning fats, not sugar. And they work as a team. There's this huge schism between running as something natural and this solitary thing you do yourself, as work.

Why were so many doctors eager to tell you that you weren't built to run?
I assumed the people who were giving me advice—running shoe people and doctors—knew what they were talking about. I can pin the tail on the villain and say they absorbed the party line of the sports shoe manufacturers who came up with the logical scenario that impact shock hurts. The disturbing thing is there's no evidence it's true.

So we don't need to go out and buy the most cushioned, expensive shoes?
We're being fleeced. It's a pure marketing and product thing. Modern running shoes let people run with their foot in front of their hips, picking up two feet of stride. You can't do that with the naked foot—it hurts. One of the mysteries out there is that if any shoe in existence really helped prevent injuries, you'd see that in an ad. But you don't. Over and over again, you're told you must go to a specialty running store. They'll say if you're doing something wrong, you need to buy something to fix it.

After I wrote this book I had heel pain. I couldn't shake it for a year and a half. I went to a barefoot running coach, and within 15 minutes the problem was solved. What had happened is that I'd started running with a neutral shoe and had regressed back to my old form—leaning back, landing on my mid-foot. That's what was causing the pain. I've been literally afraid to put on running shoes since then.

Running barefoot may be healthier, say scientists
Runners without shoes land more gently on the ground, avoiding impact injuries
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Thursday, 28 January 2010

During her colourful career as a track and field athlete, Zola Budd was as famous for her eccentric habit of running barefoot as she was for turning her back on apartheid South Africa.

Now, scientists have found that running without any footwear could in fact be better for your legs than jogging in trainers, because it encourages the use of a different set of muscles as well as a different gait that avoids repeated heavy impacts between the feet and the ground.

Wearing modern trainers encourages heavy "heel-striking" between the back of the foot and the ground, whereas barefoot running makes people more "springy" and less likely to hit the ground hard with their feet, it is believed.

The researchers found that running in bare feet – which was until relatively recently in human evolution, the natural way to run – may give better protection against the sort of repetitive-impact injuries caused by striking the ground with a force equivalent to several times a person's body weight.

A study which compared barefoot runners with those who ran in modern trainers found that heel strike was less likely in those who did not wear running shoes. Barefoot runners were more likely to land on the front part or ball of the foot, and they adjusted their leg and foot movements so that they landed more gently on the ground, the scientists found.

"People who don't wear shoes when they run have an astonishingly different strike. By landing on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision, much less than most shoe runners generate when they heel strike," said Daniel Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University.

"Most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world's hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain. All you need is a few calluses to avoid roughing up the skin of the foot. Furthermore, it might be less injurious than the way some people run in shoes," Professor Lieberman said.

The study in the science journal Nature compared runners in the United States and Kenya, where many people have run barefoot since childhood. They found that barefoot runners tend to point their toes toward the ground, giving a spring in their step, compared with those who run in trainers.

Modern running shoes have cushioned heels that encourage landing on the back of the foot, which for a barefoot runner can be painful. However, cushioned heels mean that a typical runner is pounding the ground heavily at a rate of about 1,000 collisions per mile, said Madhusudhan Venkadesan, also of Harvard University.

"Heel striking is painful when barefoot or in minimal shoes because it causes a large collisional force each time a foot lands on the ground. Barefoot runners point their toes more at landing, avoiding this collision by decreasing the effective mass of the foot that comes to a sudden stop when you land, and by having a more compliant, or springy leg," Dr Venkadesan said.

Professor Lieberman said the pronounced arch of the human foot shows that human beings are built for long-distance running. "Humans have engaged in endurance running for millions of years but the modern running shoe was not invented until the 1970s," he said.

However, he cautions: "Running barefoot or in minimal shoes is fun but uses different muscles. If you've been a heel-striker all your life you have to transition slowly to build strength in your calf and foot muscles."

Simon says: -
So there you have it (assuming you managed to read this far). The conclusions are clear for me: -
1. Stop running on your heels - not only is it damaging it's slow!
2. Run on your mid foot/forefoot but with shoes that offer some protection
3. Short strides, high cadence helps promote this style of running and although may feel strange to start with is definitely more efficient and MUCH faster the longer the distance you run i.e. anything over 5k.
4. I use Asics DS Trainers for racing and have done for years - I run Ironmans and marathons in them and they are brilliant - lightweight and responsive with more than enough cushioning provided that you're not heel striking.
5. Newtons are one of the latest shoes promoting forefoot running - I have tested them and I'm well impressed but you need to be fresh when using them efficiently and to their maximum potential - I wouldn't dream of running more than a half marathon in them (but then I know they'd help me gain a PB in that half marathon so don't dismiss them).
6. Barefoot running (oh yeah, that's what this was about) - not for me thanks, I do believe the shoe companies have been having us over for years and have promoted an unhealthy running style (heel striking) BUT a good lightweight shoe and the correct mid foot/forefoot running gait (which can be learned - I'm living proof) seems to be the best melding of human evolution and modern science.

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