What has amazed me since the publication of Christopher McDougall’s excellent book is the lack of coverage the running magazines have given barefoot running. Whilst the national press have seen the subject worthy of quite large articles, the running press have been very quiet. Perhaps it is not so surprising when we look at the pages running magazines devote to advertising expensive running shoes.
In his book, Born to Run, McDougall challenges the running shoe companies to produce research results that proves their shoes are actually good for us. He argues that during the time that shoes have been developing and ‘improving’ — using state-of-the-art manufacturing and materials — running injuries have actually been increasing. It seems that manufacturers should be bending over backwards to prove the worth of their products — have you seen any evidence of this?
Conversely, there is research to support the benefits of running without this ‘essential’ piece of running kit. In his revealing article on the website Sportscience, Michael Warburton explores the subject in great detail. Those of us interested in barefoot running may not be so surprised by his words, but most of the more general running population may be severely challenged by such nuggets as:
“forces acting on the hip joint were lower for barefoot jogging than for jogging in various kinds of shoe”,
“In another study, expensive athletic shoes accounted for more than twice as many injuries as cheaper shoes”,
“Footwear with greater cushioning apparently provokes a sharp reduction in shock-moderating behaviour, thus increasing impact force”,
“Other features of footwear, such as arch supports and orthotics, may interfere with shock-moderating behavior and probably hinder the shock-absorbing downward deflection of the medial arch on landing”.
But it’s not just the injury factor that we runners are interested in. Some of us want to know about speed and running economy; surely running shoes make us faster, more durable runners, don’t they?
How about this then:
“Wearing shoes increases the energy cost of running”.
“Flaherty (1994) found that oxygen consumption during running at 12 km/h was 4.7% higher in shoes of mass ~700 g per pair than in bare feet”.
So, although much more detailed and reliable research is needed, there are some very good reasons for anyone who runs to question the value of running shoes. You can read more in the whole Sportscience article: Barefoot Running, here, or download the same article as a pdf file here.
As for me, I’m still finding out, I cannot recommend any runner runs barefoot or not. One thing is for sure, I can no longer advise any runner to go out and buy ‘decent’ running shoes.