Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Simple Bare Necessities!

Oh hello there, thanks for dropping by. Gather round and get comfortable because this could be a controversial post...

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin...

*Disclaimer: The following post is purely my opinion and based on very little/no scientific fact

There is a craze sweeping the running scene at the moment. I have used the term 'craze' but have also heard it described as an 'epidemic', 'revoloution' and 'fad'. All or none may be correct, but I chose craze just because the topic does seem to make people go a little coco-loco at the moment. Do you know what it is yet?

Barefoot running.

It's often heralded by the barefoot running community as the answer to eliminating a lot of injuries and the book 'Born to Run' is credited with helping to give it the hypothetical 'leg up' on it's way to public awareness. Before I get stuck in, let me just explain to all our non-running friends what I am talking about:

Barefoot running is pretty much what it says on the tin - running without shoes. However in the running world it also covers people who run in extremely minimalist shoes, a common brand being the Vibram five fingers (refered to as VFF). VFF's are like gloves for your feet, providing the feeling of runing barefoot without the pain of treading on sharp stones. Try treading on an upturned plug/stickle brick for an idea of why VFF's are a very good idea if you want to grin and bare it.

VFF - taken from good olde Wikipedia

It is claimed (note the claimed) that running barefoot is in fact better for us and there would be far fewer foot/leg injuries in the community if we didn't have such supportive shoes. The logic kind of makes sense. When you have your foot in a plaster cast for several months the muscles weaken and people often require intensive physio to get back to 'normal' again. The same is believed by the barefoot brigade about overly supportive and cushioned shoes, by providing all the extra support the muscles do less work and hence we get more injuries. (Simplistic view). If you are really interested in the philosophy behind it just google barefoot running and you will be bombarded with information.

In fact, it seems to be making a lot of headway. Many shoe companies have now launched more minimalist shoes to cater for the demand. I should know - I've brought a pair of Nike Free +2 and  have to admit they are extremely comfortable - although being injured still I have not run in them.

Then there's the 'anti' barefoot gang. It's difficult to know exactly how to describe the 'anti's' as I have yet to meet someone who genuinely hates/disapproves of barefoot running. I think it's more a case of people either being sceptical or deciding it's great for others but not for them. So we'll call them the sceptics.

From my trawling of various forums it does seem a little like the barefoot brigade think that everyone is out to get them and anyone questioning the barefoot revolution is automatically part of the 'anti' gang, when in fact they are just sceptical.

The reason for all the scepticism? Well there's not actually any solid scientific proof that barefoot running is actually better for us. In comparison to running shoes it hasn't been around nearly long enough to obtain any valid or concrete results. There have been a few minor studies carried out and printed in low impact scientific journals, often quoted on barefoot running websites, but when looked at in detail (rather than just the abstract) they only provide 'snapshots' of running and none have really been big or thorough enough to make any real conclusions. One study I looked at actually discounted two barefoot runners from it's results, as they had to drop out half way through the tests due to injuries - doesn't really seem right does it?

Ok so now I sound like a skeptic. Let me balance the books - whilst there is no scientific research done to prove barefoot running is better/worse for us, there's also no scientific research to prove that running shoes are better/worse for us. The barefoot running community is still a very small percentage of all the runners out there, so it's very difficult to compare injury rates etc. and barefoot running isn't helped by the fact that you can't just go out and run without shoes. After years of shod feet it takes many months to build up to being able to run distances like you can in trainers and many barefoot 'wannabes' fall at the first hurdle by attempting to run 6 miles in just VFFs on their first outing.

In my opinion it's just like the races we run. Some people love short sprints and others excel at ultra distances. What appeals to one person may be considered hell for another. It's exactly the same with barefoot running. I have no doubt that it does help some people, just like i have no doubt that trainers help some people too. I have great admiration for those that make the 'transfer' but I am not convinced that barefoot running is for (or will benefit) everyone. I do believe in giving everything a go before poo-pooing it though (sorry for the term). Before jumping on either bandwagon, think about giving it a try and deciding for yourself. So if you fancy trying out a bit of naked feet I have this advice:

Don't just go for it! Get some advice from some of the very detailed barefoot websites and communities that are brimming with tips and tricks to start making the transition. This will keep you (hopefully) free from injury and make the whole process smoother and more rewarding. Remember: Stay safe kids!

And if you don't fancy trying it out? Well then don't. Simples!

So will I be barefoot running soon? No. But will I be running in trainers soon? No.

So let's call it even and go and have a cup of tea and a biscuit shall we?
Now let's make friends and go and gang up on the 'Zumba' or backwards running society...

Keep debating

Biscuit Nikki x

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  1. Great reading!
    I wrote a post about this a while back, at the end of which I provide some links to both sides:

  2. Thank you! The link is brilliant - also a really good insight!