Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Barefoot: Or, Why I Wear Those Funny Looking Shoes

I should maybe back up a little and tell you, really, how extraordinary it is that I run. At all.

I have tried in the course of my lifetime to run several times, and never, prior to this time, have I been successful in the least. I would go to the local Discount Shoe Barn, pick a purdy pair of "cross trainers," put on cotton gym socks, lace the whole thing up, and inevitably end 200 yards later with my knees and ankles screaming for mercy. I thought for sure I wasn't built for running.

But then, a couple of things happened. First of all, I met my husband, a former Marine, a distance runner, and a stubborn sweet talker with a penchant for persuading me to do things outside my comfort zone. Second, he started wearing these butt-ugly toe shoes and running in them, and miraculously his knee pain disappeared. And third, he thought it would be a good idea if I got a pair too, so that we could run together.

After much gentle but persistent harassment, one day, to shut him up, I watched a video of a Harvard evolutionary biologist, Dan Lieberman, explain why running shoes sucked. It featured a woman of about my build (read: like a brick shithouse) being wired up on a treadmill which recorded the comparative impact of her running stride in regular running shoes, and in these funky toe shoes. In the regular running shoes, her stride was longer and her foot struck the ground heel first. The impact on her body was incredible, a sharp peak on the monitor followed by a smaller ripple effect. In the weird shoes, her stride was shorter, and she landed mid-foot -- on the part between the toes and the heel. The monitor recorded a lower, more evenly distributed impact. This Lieberman fellow is convinced that running shoes change the body's natural running stride to our detriment, and that we are born to run . . . well, barefoot.

I thought, what the heck, and walked down to the basement, kicked off my shoes, and hopped on the treadmill.

Ten minutes later, I was ordering the funny looking shoes. Turns out, the Lieberman guy and my husband were on to something. In the funny shoes, my stride is shorter, and my foot hits the ground on the middle part of my foot. My knees don't hurt. My ankles don't hurt. It's amazing.

Yeah, they're Vibram FiveFingers. I have two pairs now, along with three pairs of funny toe socks.

They may be funny looking, but they turned me into a runner.

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