Boston Marathon and beyond: Running is ready for a barefoot revolution
Boston Marathon runners feel compelled to wear high-tech – and expensive – running shoes. But the way to run better, feel better, and even live better is to run with no shoes at all.
In the weeks leading up to today’s Boston Marathon, ads near the finish line boasted of the latest high-tech – and expensive – running shoes, promising to help marathoners run better.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But what if the way to run better, feel better, and even live better is to run with no shoes at all?
Our ancestors moved over the earth, and found their way into nearly every nook and cranny of the planet, with their bare or minimally clad feet. The foot has been the primary vehicle of our success as a species, allowing us to fulfill our desire to explore, discover, achieve, and eat.
Yet, most people these days have come to see their feet as broken appendages, unfit for the real world, sickly and weak, prone to injury, in need of support and padding, doomed to suffer.
Well, arguably, we are the first generation of runners who have worked with the hypothesis that more cushioning and support equals safer running and reduced impact. We have concluded that modern surfaces, hard and unforgiving, require ever-thickening sole padding to help counter the shocks of landing, but is that true?
It is counter-intuitive, but the truth is – and studies back this up – that the more you block out the feeling of impact in your feet, the more impact you are likely to put into your body, at the wrong time in your stride, by moving and landing differently than you would if you actually felt what you were doing.
Have you ever wondered why you have so much feeling on the bottom of your feet, so much information sensing capacity? Well, one of its purposes is to feel impact and make changes in your stride to reduce it through form and technique.
Like race-car tires, the soles of your feet are supposed to feel the road. But putting an inch or two of foam, air, or gel between your skin and the surface of the earth dulls sensation. And this dulling seems to set in motion a series of unfortunate events that ultimately leads to inefficient movement and injury.
By taking off your shoes, you give your body a chance to reuse some amazingly useful, built-in systems that help you move in a way that need not be jarring nor pounding – regardless of the hardness of the terrain.
It’s a way of movement that more effectively captures and releases stored energy through elasticity in our bodies: the splaying of our forefoot, the arch in our foot, tendons in the lower legs, calves and quads, and form, all positioned ideally to absorb and recoil the energy of movement, smoothly and efficiently.
With barefoot running, your feet and mind are synced-up, communicating in real-time, by tapping into a kind of primordial physical intelligence, which is our birthright. This built in recoil system puts to shame the claims of the marshmallow soft, spring-loaded shoes that capture the imagination of so many.
So, why did we give up our state-of-the-art – and totally free – feet for expensive sneakers? What went wrong?