12 July 2013

Running Shoes or Shoeless

Welcome back. Nearly two years ago, in my absorbing Execise Update post, which addressed my exercise routine, skunks and performing in the glow of a neighbor’s motion-activated exterior house light, I reported that my wife and son were running in footwear that had toes.

My wife’s running shoes. Pick a color.
I had no idea that running in such side-splitting shoes--now grouped with minimalist shoes--was a substitute for going shoeless and that barefoot running was and is a burning issue for serious runners.

My years of jogging a mile most days, slowly, if it’s not icy, pouring or below 0 degree F, won’t earn me a serious runner card. Nevertheless, I’ll take this opportunity to review recent research. This discussion is, of course, not intended for serious runners who have already mulled over the research and couldn’t care less about my two cents anyway.

Barefoot Running

As I understand it, the winner of the 1960 Olympic marathon ran barefoot; 25 years later biomechanics researchers at Tulane University published a paper on the shock wave of landing on ones heels when running; and in 2010, with the caveat that more research was needed, Harvard investigators made a strong case for running barefoot, landing on ones forefeet or midfeet, not ones heels.

Before those papers, researchers at Pennsylvania State University pointed out that more running injuries are associated with pushing off than landing and that those who land on their midfeet--not their heels or forefeet--are most at risk.

Wear Shoes

There are many other often-cited studies, but since biomechanics and evolutionary biology hold no particular interest for me, I skipped my usual in-depth literature review. Purportedly, that was done for a recent University of Calgary study.

Based on their review, the Calgary researchers concluded that (1) there is no evidence that barefoot running with a forefoot landing is less prone to injury than running with shoes and (2) there are too many variables (running surface, shoes, speed, the runner) to generalize.

In addition, examining the forces involved, the researchers judge that the impact on landing may not be the major reason for potential running injuries. As regards performance and injury, they believe the runner’s preference and running style are more important. 


In my early running shoe purchases, I pondered pronation, which relates to the flattening of your arches after your foot lands and how much your foot rolls inward or outward. It turns out that my passing on shoes that correct for over- or under-pronation was probably ok.

A new study from Denmark’s Aaruhus University and Aalborg University Hospital and the University of Groningen in The Netherlands found that foot pronation is not associated with increased injury, at least not for healthy beginning runners who wore neutral shoes for a year. 

Wrap Up

My misshapen toes and equally misshapen humor would never allow me to wear footwear with toes. Minimalist shoes that look like running shoes but have a low drop from heel to toe, or even moccasins or sandals might work. Yet, having witnessed what ends up on road surfaces, I would never walk much less jog there barefoot.

Oh, my wife and son generally avoid hard surfaces (and people like me) when donning toed shoes, but they definitely favor minimalist shoes. Thanks for stopping by.


- Discussions of barefoot running on Wikipedia and Runners World:
- Tulane paper (1985) in Journal of Biomechanics: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4030798
- Harvard website on barefoot running: barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/
- Penn State (1980) paper from Journal of Biomechanics: wweb.uta.edu/faculty/ricard/Classes/KINE-5350/Cavanagh%20%281980%29%20Ground%20reaction%20forces%20in%20distance%20running%20.pdf
- Calgary paper in Footwear Science and ScienceDaily write up: www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19424280.2013.766649#.Ucq7wJzB-So
- Paper on pronation in British Journal of Sports Medicine and ScienceDaily write up:

1 comment:

  1. "It's not what is on your feet, it's what your feet are doing." - C. McDougall (the Born to Run guy). I'm w/ him on this.