Saturday, February 27, 2010

Running Shoes are for Wussies

Over the summer my son-in-law Marshall (the one that married Heather and ran the Boston Marathon with us 2 years ago) gave me a book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. Although I have read a few, I’m not big on running books. Mostly they tend to be a lecture on running style or tell me how great it is to run my first race or wax eloquently on the beauty of running in (pick your favorite place). Been there, done that…don’t need to read about it.

But this book was different. It’s an adventure story, mixed with facts about running, and interesting characters. What’s more it has established a ground swell of interest in a new way of running. Barefoot. Yeah, I rolled my eyes and started laughing too when I first thought about it. Can you imagine going out on the streets of LA or NY or DC without socks and shoes? Within a quarter mile you would be hopping around yowling with something stuck in your foot like a scene from the three stooges. And when was the last time you had to walk across hot pavement or sand on your way to a pool/ocean on a hot summer day. Brings up memories of Dudley Moore in the movie 10 when he has the beach boy carry him to the water to avoid burning his feet. How about that for 5 or 6 miles? Or my favorite….running in a New England winter on roads that are so cold that I swear some mornings the rubber on the bottom of my shoes is going to crack. And don’t even begin to ask me about barefooting in the snow.

But after reading the book I have to say it raises some interesting questions. Did you know that one of the winners of the Boston Marathon, Ellison Tarzan Brown, ran the last seven miles of the marathon barefoot because the heat from the streets had made his feet too hot in the shoes. I was somewhat was surprised to find that last year a guy ran the Boston Marathon barefoot (only somewhat surprised because there are a lot of strange people running Boston….beside me that is). He wasn’t the first and judging from all the hype around barefoot running there will be a lot more in the coming year. Not to be outdone, Harvard had to get in on the craze. A recent Harvard study reinforces the information in McDougall’s book that humans ran for centuries without shoes and for more centuries without the highly padded shoes that through the marketing genius of Nike, appeared in the early 70’s. How’s this for data…30% of regular runners get injured every year. If the high tech, infinitely padded, motion controlled, gel filled running shoes are so good for us, why are so many of us injured all the time.

One more data point, almost all running shoes, no matter how much you pay for them, give up the ghost in terms of cushion, when you get around 18 miles (yupp…just when you need them most and every downhill step feels like someone pounding a nail into your quads). After that you could be wearing street shoes. But at this point I’m not ready to give up my running shoes although I’m giving it serious consideration as I again ice my hamstring. Heather and Marshall have shifted to Vibram Five Fingers which are a form of rubber running slippers that protect your feet but give you the sensation of running barefoot.

So, if you find this interesting I’d suggest giving the book a read. Actually the story is even more interesting than issue of barefoot running. And while you are thinking of barefoot running and the winters in New England if you can help out the charity I’m running for it would be greatly appreciated. Their goal is to prevent families from either sleeping or walking barefoot in the cold. Here's the link

Till next time….