Last week, we began a comprehensive exploration of the newest fitness concepts of Barefoot Running and Barefoot Running shoes. Is running barefoot better than running in shoes, and if so, do barefoot running shoes actually help? These are the questions this series attempts to answer.
In our first discussion, we had a history lesson. We talked about how war and urban growth fueled the invention of hard-paved surfaces, which in turn created the need for shod feet. We also put forth some very compelling scientific evidence that the human foot is more perfectly designed for running than even the best modern running shoes. However; this is not the end of the discussion.
Running Barefoot and the Modern Man
Primitive Man was few in number and lived in caves or wooden or mud huts. He walked on dirt and grass – and even rocks and stones. He traveled on foot, then later by horseback. Once calluses formed to protect them from sharp sticks and stones, his feet really didn’t need the protection our modern, civilized feet do today. In fact; there is some evidence that people who go barefoot all of the time have adapted on a cellular level to withstand any natural environment – cold or hot – far better than the rest of us. Wilderness survival expert, Cody Lundin has been going completely barefoot for over 25 years now. He says that over time, the body’s mitochondrial DNA actually changes to adapt to the unshod condition. We can also see modern Primitive Man in the African bush or Amazon rain forests to see how bare feet adapt to a wild landscape. This is proof of concept.
The problem with all this is that the human foot was not designed to move across hard pavement for extended periods of time, especially while running. The ancient imperial powers recognized this and in response, issued their troops footwear with sturdy soles to handle the hard road surface. Meanwhile; villagers at home often remained unshod because they usually spent far more time tending the fields than they did strolling about town.
Fast forward to the modern era. We have much bigger cities with towering skyscrapers, billions of people walking and driving around, and of course; modern armies on foot, in vehicles, and flying in airplanes that need a hard surface to safely land on. Imagine all these things without solid pavement beneath our feet. It would simply not be possible. And pavement of all types absorb and trap heat. How painful would that be without shoes?
These days, relatively few people farm the land, and even fewer do it by hand. They use modern tractors and farming machinery, which cuts work time while boosting production exponentially. Modern Man generally inhabits an urban or industrial environment, and thus walks on hard pavement constantly. In many places, it is in fact; illegal to not wear shoes on the premises due to safety and liability issues. So, just going around barefoot all the time would be impossible for most of us – particularly those of us who are not wilderness survival teachers or African Bushmen.
Now, let us consider the sport of running. Here, the rules are different. Not everyone requires the wearing of shoes, evidently. Recall the photo that was posted last week of the “Barefoot Caveman” who ran the Boston marathon this year? That guy is fifty-year-old Glen Raines. His finish time was 3:40:43. That may not be in the Top 10, or even the Top 100, but it’s better than I can do, and he wasn’t even particularly winded afterward. I‘m pretty confident that if I tried to run 26 miles - shoes or no shoes, it would have left me hospitalized somewhere around the halfway mark. The point is; however, Raines ran the entire marathon barefoot. He’s not alone either, many other runners have rejected their Nikes for bare feet or have turned to minimal footwear in recent years. And, as we have learned already, many researchers agree that bare is better, biomechanically.
So, we now know all about the Pros and Cons of barefoot running. What conclusions can we draw from this analysis? Well, this, we will discover in our final installment of this series next week.
If you want to start running barefoot, you might want to start with barefoot running shoes. If you are experiencing pain in your feet, lower legs or shins from running, don’t wait for your family physician; visit Excel Rehabilitation Services on Burnside Ave. in Gonzales, Louisiana. You will receive personalized care from an experienced, professional physical therapist!