Not since Bill Bowerman ruined his wife’s waffle iron in 1970 has there been such a cry for running footwear changes. Because of the minimum amount of gear one needs to get started in running, footwear is of the utmost importance. With the huge increase in long distance running, running shoes have become a big business, as well it should. It’s estimated, that in 1980, 143,000 people ran a marathon in the United States compared to 467,000 in 2009. Your feet are the base of your running. No amount of training can help you reach your goals if you have foot related injuries.
As the numbers of long distance runners increase, so do the numbers of injuries. Throughout history many cultures have done long distance running without the technology that we have today. So, how do we solve this problem? With technology? In the 1960s, Coach Bill Bowerman attempted to increase the speed of his athletes by lengthening their stride. He felt the way to increase a person’s stride was to allow them to use a heel striking method of running where the first part of the foot to hit the ground was the heel and force the runner to then roll over the forefoot. He developed a shoe with a heavily padded heel and supported midfoot which took the impact off the foot and put it onto the shoe. These shoes became the standard for many years. Runners and coaches are now looking at this theory and wondering if it’s actually causing injuries. The introduction of barefoot running and the new Hoka One One’s, coming in at opposite ends of the argument, shows a strong desire to change the current look of running shoes.
The natural motion of running (developed over thousands of years of evolution), is when the lateral edge of the forefoot strikes first. While barefoot running is certainly nothing new, Christopher McDougall’s 2009 book Born to Run, has brought about a surge of barefoot runners and minimalists running shoes to our modern society. Many people agree that wearing modern running shoes causes the muscles and tendons in our feet to weaken, causes poor body mechanics and increases our chances of injury. According to barefoot proponents, there are many advantages to barefoot running.
1. It helps develop the small muscles in your toes, feet, ankles, legs and hips. The toes need to spread, ankles need to bend and hips need to adjust to movement for better balance.
2. Landing on the forefoot allows the body’s natural shock absorbers (foot arch, ankles and knees) to cut down on impact injuries such as shin splints. It also allows the body to keep a forward momentum to improve speed. Heel striking tends to put the brakes on with every step.
3. Removal of the heel lift allows muscles and tendons to stretch and strengthen cutting down on calf pulls and plantar fasciitis (both of which are common injuries today and were rarely seen just a few years ago.
On the other end of the scale, a new type of shoe that is making a huge splash is the Hoka One One. The Hoka is a running shoe that sports 2.5 times the cushioning of a normal running shoe. The midsole is rockered to allow the foot to roll into the push off from the forefoot. The heel lift has also been taken out, so like barefoot running, the calves and ankles are allowed to stretch and a midfoot strike is promoted. Although there is a large amount of cushioning, the shoes are no heavier than average running shoes.
The obvious advantage to “running on marshmallows” is that is takes out all the rocks and roots. It has been compared to riding a full suspension bike, where the shoes smooth out the surface of the trail. Often runners report not feeling as beat up with these shoes as they normally do.
It’s difficult to argue with thousands of year of evolution. And even though we have technology to assist our human shortcomings, it is difficult to say what is the best method for achieving our goals. With so many people running incredible distances foot care is essential.