One day you’re watching a Hollywood TV series about weird and unexplained stuff, the next you’re standing in an outdoor shop looking at shoes with toes.. Funny how things work in life.. Let me explain..
Watching the TV series “Weird or what?” we get introduced to a tribe called Tarehumara. Refer to wikipedia for more info on the tribe. The interesting bit is that the people of that tribe are renowned for their long-distance running ability. They can run up to 700km in one session! They do this bare foot or on minimal sandals. The TV series “researched” the possible reasons how these people can run these enormous distances. One possible explanation is in the fact that these people run bare foot or close to it. The biomechanics when running bare foot as opposed to running shoes seems to be quite different.
My interest was kindled by this bizarre phenomenon despite the very thin evidence given in the TV episode..
As anyone would do, I did some research via Google and found the following site here.
It discussed the research that was done at Harvard University concerning why humans can and did run comfortably without modern running shoes. In essence they made a comparison between bare foot running and running on modern running shoes.
The site builds a case for the fact that humans have evolved to run. It seems that our ancestors were built to engage in persistence hunting. This kind of hunting is a technique in which hunters use a combination of running and tracking to pursue prey to the point of exhaustion. While humans can sweat to reduce body heat their quadruped prey would need to slow from a gallop to pant. If you can keep your prey from slowing down it will die from exhaustion in 10 to 15 min. That means a lot of running!
So, if humans were meant to run, why are we not running that well any more? Well.. it seems that since we have everything around us now we don’t need to run anymore. And we have lost the running ability that our ancestor must have had.
Besides that we somehow got into our heads that we should be wearing shoes to protect our feet. And the shoes that we used for running used to be nothing special but since around 1970 they got more and more specialised and we added cushioning and stiffening structures into the running shoe. Really we are trying to counter the shocks that are transferred by our heels hitting the ground to the rest of our bodies. But is this the right way of doing things? Are we barking up the wrong tree? How did our ancestors run so far without shoes? Without the modern supporting soles and the like? Didn’t it hurt?
Well, according to the Harvard research humans tend to run differently bare foot as opposed to in running shoes. When humans run bare foot, they tend to hit the ground first with the front or the middle of the foot (front/mid striking). When humans run in shoes, the heel seems to strike first (heel strike).
It also turns out that the impact from the front or mid foot striking is considerably less than that when heel striking.
One could also add that you could compare the human physiology with the physiology of animals that run. Just take a dog or horse for example. One has to agree that these animals have evolved to run. And they run on their toes. They are Front striking. The whole muscle structure (Achilles tendon etc) is set up to act as a big spring system that captures energy from the ground strike and efficiently releases it when the foot leaves the ground. If humans were evolved to run, they should be running on their front foot.
Following a side by side comparison of bare foot and shoe running:
Now, so you could argue that running bare foot is much better than running on conventional running shoes. It both decreases the chance of injury because of less impact on the rest of your body and it lets you use your energy better letting you run faster and further.
This is the final connection that I have to make between watching the TV series and ending up in the Outdoor Equipment store. I remembered that I saw some strange looking shoes in the shop window a few days back. The shoes are strange as they had sculpted toes in them. So they looked more like socks rather then shoes. The Harvard site also made references to these shoes.
It just made sense to me that these strange looking shoes were the next best thing to bare foot running. And since my body is better suited to indoor use, I figured that these shoes would give me the protection I needed but still give me the freedom to run the way I should be running..
It turns out they are called Five Fingers shoes and I decided to first check them out online here. They were making all the right noises on their website so I decided to make the trip into town to try them out. And man, let me tell you.. It is indeed like wearing socks. It took a bit of convincing to get all the toes in their individual sections but once that was done they felt great to walk in! I think that we should wind back the clock to 1970, slap the person who came up with the modern running shoe idea and give him the Five Finger shoe to copy.. I think we would be a whole lot better off!
So in summary, I think that just because everyone has been doing something for decades in a particular way, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best way. Here we are trying to get as much support in our shoes as possible, when it could be very well that just running bare foot is much better for us!
I know one thing though.. I’ll be saving up for a pair of Finger Shoes!!