I Drank the Kool-Aid
I recently read a book called Born to Run. I had heard great things about it for quite a while but resisted – who wants to READ a book about RUNNING? It just doesn’t sound fun.
Well, I stand – er – sit corrected. It was a really fun book to read and I learned a lot in the process. It’s pretty much the counterpoint to a lot of things I had been reading on Paleo/Primal – that whole “chronic cardio” thing that some Primal/Paleo devotees preach against, is a way of life for the Tarahumarans. The author of the book, Chris McDougall, weaves scientific study and compelling logic to barefoot running.
One of the things I learned is that the modern running shoe is only about 40 years old. Homo sapiens have been running for much longer than that. Long ago, I had heard “embarrassing” statistics about how the fastest humans were slower than pigs. For years now, though, I’ve been hearing study after study theorizing and proving that humans were born to run distances (aka, chronic cardio ). The book discusses those studies and theories. Here’s a Wikipedia on “persistence hunting” and here’s a video about it (side note: I’ve eaten kudu when I was in South Africa and it’s delicious).
I digress. One of the most counter-intuitive and convincing facts the book explained was that the impact to the foot is greater in conventional running shoes versus the impact when barefoot running. That is – it’s counter-intuitive until you barefoot run around the house – you are much lighter on your feet naturally than you are slamming away in your cushy running shoes.
Here is an excerpt of an analysis from the Sports Science Journal:
Measurements of the vertical component of ground-reaction force during running provide no support for the notion that running shoes reduce shock. Robbins and Gouw (1990) reported that running shoes did not reduce shock during running at 14 km/h on a treadmill. Bergmann et al. (1995) found that the forces acting on the hip joint were lower for barefoot jogging than for jogging in various kinds of shoe. Clarke et al. (1983) observed no substantial change in impact force when they increased the amount of heel cushioning by 50% in the shoes of well-trained runners. Robbins and Gouw (1990) argued that plantar sensation induces a plantar surface protective response whereby runners alter their behavior to reduce shock. The less-cushioned shoe permitted increases in plantar discomfort to be sensed and moderated, a phenomenon that they termed "shock setting". Footwear with greater cushioning apparently provokes a sharp reduction in shock-moderating behaviour, thus increasing impact force (Robbins and Hanna, 1987; Robbins et al., 1989; Robbins and Gouw, 1990).
I was a skeptic of those really goofy looking Vibrams, but intrigued at the same time. And Born to Run did me in.
I ordered a pair of Vibram Bikulas.
Unfortunately, the parks nearby my home are not accessible for various reasons. So, my running in Bikulas has been very limited, although I have used them on the treadmill. The most I’ve done is about 1.5 miles so far. I really do like them though and I hope they will keep my legs healthy! I did run a short distance in them with my dog at a park. They feel really fun! After my first mile in them, I definitely felt tenderness in my calves… and these days, I rarely get sore from running.
If anyone is interested in barefoot running, this is a must read. This post in the Runner’s World forums lays out a plan for adjusting to running barefoot. I think people are surprised that they just can’t just run out the door and do 5 miles barefoot (isn’t that what we’ve done for millennia?). If you’re used to the comfort of running shoes, it’s unlikely your legs are prepared for the total gait change you must make with barefoot running. You really need to pretend you’ve started running all over again.
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