Saturday, July 30, 2011

History Sticks to Your Feet

There's something to be said for the power of the written word. A well-written argument can be very convincing. For the last week, I've been reading Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, which tells the tale of the Tarahumara Indians, a hidden tribe in Mexico whose members are able to run hundreds of miles at a pop. Along the way, McDougall explains how the current state of cushioned running shoes has actually done serious damage to our feet by changing the way our feet were designed to run.

This is not a new book. It came out in 2009 and has helped inspire a wave of minimalist running, as folks who have suffered chronic injuries as a result of running are turning to this approach. Some folks have tried running barefoot, while others are using minimalist shoes like the Vibram Five Fingers, which resembles a glove for your feet, or new minimalist shoes like the New Balance Minimus and a slew of others (check out this excellent look at the radical changes in the running shoe market in the last year or so).

I've heard about friends investigating minimalist running (including the great Steve Runner), but I had resisted because my Brooks Adrenalines had served me well for the last several years and I've been able to do 14 marathons and countless other races over the last decade without too many problems. But this year has been a struggle for me, even though I'm taking the year off from marathons. I've had Achilles' problems, heel issues, hamstring tightness; some of that stems from playing soccer this spring, but a lot of it is simply wear and tear.

So when I finally started reading Born to Run, I was still resistant to the idea of minimalist running. But reading the story of the Tarahumara as well as the breakdown of the biomechanics of the foot and how Nike and others completely altered the way feet were supposed to hit the ground, I have to say I was profoundly affected by it. It all made sense to me. So much so that I will start to try minimalist running. I'm going to try and play it smart and ease into it a little at a time. I've read about folks going overboard and injuring themselves. After years of running in cushioned sneakers, you can't just abandon that structure without experiencing some discomfort.

I still don't think I can run in Vibrams, but I might pick up a pair of minimalist sneakers and see how those feel. I'm not expecting miracles and I don't think I'll suddenly become an ultrarunner, but I'd like to see if changing my footfall will alleviate some of the injuries I've had of late. I still love running. I simply consider this another interesting adventure along the way. We'll see how it goes.


d. brigham said...

Wow, I'm surprised that you're gonna try this out. I know we talked about it after I read "Born to Run," and I think I told you the story of my one barefoot running attempt. I jogged around a soccer field close to my house and didn't feel too great. I've been running in Reebok Zigtechs and they've been great. Good luck with the minimalist shoes.

Jay said...

Figure it's worth a shot. Like I said, I'm not doing the Vibrams or actually running barefoot. Just going to try out less cushioned shoes to see if it takes.