PART 3 – NEW DIRECTIONS
So, what do we do now? For starters, NO, I do not recommend that you run your next half-marathon barefoot. But certainly, I predict that sooner or later, changes will come about in both shoe design and training. From the medical establishment’s point of view, the prevention and treatment of running injuries must change to incorporate the concepts outlined above. In fact I view the ideas I’ve presented here as a major paradigm shift in sports medicine, the likes of which I have not seen in the last fifteen years. Of course, the major shoe companies have to own up and start introducing better shoes into their lines. Why not do this gradually and introduce just one shoe that incorporates some of the recommended changes. Dr. Robbins is already testing shoes that use a thinner, less resilient midsole material that provides the comfort but not the impact absorption and of course has no arch support. I’m sure the marketing boys at NIKE could handle it.
Without being too radical, there are some changes that are worth introducing without further delay and they are as follows:
1-Young children should be encouraged to spend as much time as possible barefoot. We know that this is especially important for the proper formation of the foot arch in the first six years of life. So, moms, trash the WEEBOCKS and let your kids develop strong healthy feet just as they were meant to.
2-Runners should consider incorporating sessions of barefoot running into their training. In an article in the October 1997 Runner’s World, Adam Bean gives the following advice: “Running barefoot a couple of times per week can decrease your risk of injury and boost your ‘push-off’ power.” You can run on any surface you like as long as you’re careful of sharp objects and pebbles. Soft sand is probably the least desirable surface because it is unstable and after your heel has dug-in, you will weight bear on your arch. Paved roads are fine and dangerous objects are easy to spot. But remember, your feet will need to toughen-up so start with small doses. Kick your shoes off as soon as you get home and spend your evenings and weekends barefoot.
Is it possible to rehabilitate the weakened muscles of a normally shod runner? It certainly is according to another excellent study by Dr. Robbins (1987). He asked 17 normally shod recreational runners to gradually increase barefoot activity both at home and outdoors over a period of several weeks and to maintain barefoot activity for about four months. The runners’ feet were examined, measured and x-rayed at regular intervals to detect changes. Results showed marked improvement in the anatomy and function of the arch. The authors concluded that the normally shod foot is capable of rehabilitation of foot musculature. Very good news indeed for all of us.
3-Runners may want to consider switching to a lightweight shoe that provides less cushioning and no arch support. The only shoes on the market that come close to these characteristics are racing flats. I use the 6.5 oz. ASICS Gel-Magic Racer. For you diehard NIKE fans, consider the Air Streak II, Air Streak Spectrum Plus or the Air Streak Vapor IV but most shoe manufactures make a flat. A shoe that Nike has just introduced this year, the NIKE FREE also looks like a step in the right direction (I have not actually seen this shoe myself yet). Moreover, a look at the NIKE FREE web page give me a bit of hope that this company may finally have seen the light. If you do change to flats, I recommend you wean into them slowly. Remember that you live in a developed country and that your feet have been shielded from natural stresses your entire life, i.e. you’ve got wimpy feet, buddy. The intrinsic muscles of your feet are asleep and need to wake up slowly. The first thing that will strike you in a racing flat is the lightness of the shoe (Most runners today run in shoes that weigh as much as 14 oz.) Then, you will quickly realize that for the first time, you start to feel the ground you are walking on. Oh…and one more thing: don’t listen to the guy at the running store. He’s there to sell shoes and is under the spell of the powerful shoe industry advertising machine. He has become well and truly brainwashed with the traditional concepts that we all need cushioning and arch support. He will try to dissuade you from buying a racing flat and he may even go as far as telling you that they are for elite runners and are meant to be used for one marathon only. Don’t believe him. I keep my flats for at least 400 – 500 miles with no problem.
Finally, some radicals among you may wish to become full-time barefoot runners. Barefoot running clubs are springing-up all over America and Europe. Point your search engine to ‘barefoot running’ or go to http://www.runningbarefoot.org to get more information. I also welcome anyone who wishes more information on any of the quoted materials to contact me and it would be my pleasure to provide you with copies (firstname.lastname@example.org).