It is easy to fall in love with the idea. Man has run and run for 4 million years and only recently have we shoved large chunks of foam under our feet. These blocks of rubber are the cause of all our injury woes. The foot has evolved over millions of years, as has the rest of our bodies to cope with all the stresses of running. In fact that is how we gained advantage over the other primates from which we evolved, our abilities to run for hours and hours, days and days and chase animals to exhaustion. It is a wonderful thought and one that will give me some great rocks to hurl at those idiots who constantly ask me "isn't it bad for your knees?" and so forth.
However, it might not be that clear cut. The world isn't the same place it was a million years ago. There was no tar mac or gravel paths. Were humans really supposed to run around all day or is that just a conspiracy to discredit Nike? Didn't these super runners of a million years ago die before they were 30? And I can't believe that the answer to our running woes involves wearing a product that sounds like a sex toy.
I first heard (and saw) about the Vibram Five Fingers when Christopher McDougal came to speak about his book "Born To Run" to our club. The book endorses this theory that humans were runners. Or that running made us human. I could easily get carried away with the idea, I'd love to be able to say to people that running is perfectly natural. It would save me a lot of time. "Why do you love running?" They'll ask. "Why do you love sex?" I'll reply.
An article appeared this week in Wired magazine, rather sloppily written and poorly referenced but containing many of the arguments for (and in the comments - against) the idea that we should be running barefoot, and indeed running lots and lots.
The main points of the argument are;
- Humans have been on their feet for 4 millions years and only in trainers for about 40 years. We managed to survive up until now? What has changed?
- Children run quite freely in barefoot and don't get injured. That is because they are running as nature intended
- Humans actually scored an evolutionary advantage from being able to run long distances, running other animals to exhaustion. In contrast humans are really poor sprinters in comparions to anything with 4 legs and most things with 2 legs
- All these "developments" in running shoe technology have not stopped masses of people getting injured
- The foot is actually an incredibly efficient piece of evolution, build with impact dissipation and spring mechanisms that adjust perfectly to each step whereas trainers force an unnatural large stride, heel strike and mask the foot from responding to the ground
The counter arguments mentioned in the comments
- Little research has been done in this area, certainly not enough to draw conclusions on. The experiment to discredit the need for cushioning looks shaky at best
- There is not sufficient fossil evidence that humans really did run as much as suggested, or at all. This is still all conjecture
- Even if we did run as much as is suggested, humans only had a life expectancy of 30 back then. Human bodies may be designed for 30 years of running, but not 90.
- Pavements and tarmac did not exist a million years ago. Now it does, and feet were not built to cope with such hard surfaces
- They make you look like a twat
I am currently reading some of the articles about this. I've not yet formed my own view but am excited enough by the thought to go out and buy a pair.
I want it to be true, I really do and I know I'm biased in favour from the start. Nevertheless I'm going to try and stay objective as I test these things out. What's the worst that could happen? Apart from being told that I look like a twat?