Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Barefoot Running - Don't! Buy Our Shoes

Jim Walker, CEO of Brooks, published an open letter yesterday to the running community expressing his concerns about barefoot running. Well, he says it's all about running, but it's really about running with the shoes his company makes.

Let’s call a spade a spade. We make running shoes: High-quality, biomechanically mapped, performance running shoes calibrated for runners’ unique needs. We hope runners buy our shoes and we’re confident they’ll enjoy them. But this isn’t about selling shoes. And, quite frankly, this isn’t even about running barefoot.

So what are we talking about here? First and foremost, we’re all talking about running, and that’s a great thing because we believe to our core that running is a positive force in our world. We want everyone to run and be happy. But to get there, whether you should run barefoot is not the great debate. We are all unique. The focus should be on how you run and train, and then finding the right shoe that addresses your unique biomechanical needs. "The Perfect Ride for Every Stride," as we say at Brooks. Let’s look at a snapshot of the running population:

* At one end of the spectrum, we know there are runners who lack foot strength leading to severe pronation. They may strike heavily and need a great deal of support to run injury- and pain-free. We hear repeatedly from them that the Brooks Beast "saved their lives."

* At the other end of the spectrum are the biomechanically blessed (and/or conditioned through training) who have natural healthy gaits and enjoy great efficiency. These gazelles may wear shoes, they may not.

* The vast majority of runners (including this middle-of-the-packer !) fall in between. And for us, we strongly believe most of our mileage should be logged in a performance running shoe, not barefoot. For us, supportive, cushioned footwear is not only beneficial, it also plays an essential role in delivering a comfortable, injury-free running experience.
(Emphasis in the original)

It's all about running, not whether or not you should wear shoes. Which you should. And they make them.

"At one end of the spectrum, we know there are runners who lack foot strength leading to severe pronation. They may strike heavily and need a great deal of support to run injury- and pain-free."

Running barefoot strengthens your feet and legs. When you run with the proper stride, you don't strike heavily. As a result, you run injury and pain free. It takes patience. It doesn't happen overnight. But it has worked for me and I am not a biomechanically blessed gazelle. I mean, really, have you seen me?

Running barefoot is a huge paradigm change that goes against the grain of what we've been taught for many years. Most people think I'm crazy or make fun of me when they find out I run barefoot. I usually get a different reaction when they see me running barefoot because what they imagine it's like is not matching what they see.

Last Friday, during a four-mile barefoot run, I ran alongside a guy who asked me serious questions about what I was doing. He complained that running always hurts him but that he needs the exercise. So I explained the process I went through, how I differently I run now as compared to before and how well it has worked for me. I explained that you can learn to run comfortably with shoes on. I do it all the time although I prefer not wearing them. But running barefoot forces you to run comfortably because it hurts when you do it wrong, which is how most people run when they're wearing shoes.

Speaking of running, yesterday I did 4.4 miles at lunch and kept up a 7:40 pace. Since it was so cold and wet I only did the last mile barefoot. I wouldn't characterize a 7:40 pace as that of a gazelle. But during that last mile I felt like it.


Spokane Al said...

I do think that it is pretty cool that we are now intelligently questioning the promises and technologies of running shoe makers.

Our knowledge of shoes and feet seems to reached a new level compared to the previous three decades of running when most of us would choose our shoes based on the latest Runners World ratings and rankings.

Sherry said...

Gazelle!! I have seen you and that's EXACTLY what I thought!

Spokane Al said...

Hank, I came across this study on barefoot running that my be of interest to you. It seems that perhaps we are just at the very beginning of understanding the pros/cons.


Hank Greer said...

Thanks, Al. This study got a lot of comments on the Minimalist Runner discussion group.

I can only answer for me. The change in my foot strike, landing on the forefoot--even with shoes on--has made running so much more comfortable.