News on Barefoot Running: Part III


To this point we’ve looked a couple of aspects of the human foot and running.  In Part I we looked at research showing the unshod or minimally shod foot worked quite well at running for the vast majority of human history.  In Part II we looked at the following: 1) research linking knee osteoarthritis to high loading forces on the knees, 2) higher loading forces were associated with stability shoes, and 3) lower loading forces were associated with shoes such as flip-flops that allow a more natural foot movement.  Thus we can conclude that in order to avoid ailments such as knee osteoarthritis (and I might guess the same for hip, ankle, and low back arthritis) we should do whatever we can to allow our feet to move unencumbered.

[Researchers] concluded that running shoes exerted more stress on these joints compared to running barefoot or walking in high-heeled shoes.

So here are the lastest findings on this issue.  Running Shoes May Cause Damage to Hips, Knees and Ankles, New Study Suggests details the findings of a study published in the December 2009 PM & R, the journal of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.  (Here’s the abstract, and the full text.)  Researchers studied 68 healthy adult runners as they ran on a treadmill both in modern running shoes and while barefoot.  Significantly higher torque forces were observed in the subjects when they were in running shoes.  The study reports “An average 54% increase in the hip internal rotation torque, a 36% increase in knee flexion torque, and a 38% increase in knee varus (inward) torque were measured when running in running shoes compared with barefoot.”

Those are significant forces!  And why do most people wear running shoes?  To protect the feet, provide stability, to be comfortable…  Very interesting that these shoes actually increase the forces which we’re looking to minimize.  In closing, the researchers say,

“Reducing joint torques with footwear completely to that of barefoot running, while providing meaningful footwear functions, especially compliance, should be the goal of new footwear designs.”

So with that statement in mind, I’ve recently purchased a pair of Vibram 5-Fingers model KSO.  I’ve worn them the past couple of days at work and they’re quite interesting.  I plan on wearing them exclusively when I weight train, and I plan on running in them fairly soon.  (There’s a little too much snow on the ground here in Denver right now.)  I’ll probably try some running on the grass first and then try short runs on pavement.  We’ll see what happens…

Distance Running and Human Evolution


With the recent running of the New York City Marathon, some information on distance running seems appropriate.  The Human Body is Built for Distance is a recent story in the New York Times Health section.  Part of the discussion includes the theory that humans are unique among animals in our distance-running abilities. It seems that we might indeed be the fastest of earth’s land-based creatures over the long haul. Some of our advantages include our foot structure, spring-like connective tissue, our cooling system, our glycogen storage capacity, and even our sense of balance.

Of further interest is the discussion on running injuries and footwear.  Christopher McDougal author of Born to Run suggests in the article that many of our ancestors as well as some of our less-advanced contemporaries ran and do run many more miles with far fewer injuries than we do with our fancy modern running shoes.  The idea that primitive running is better running has been suggested  here, and here.  It’s also the driving idea behind shoes such as the Nike Free and Vibram Five-Fingers.  About 90 percent of runners training for a marathon experience injury according to statistics in the article.

Sort of makes sense right?  How long have modern running shoes been around?  Nike started business in the late 1970s.  Meanwhile, humans were running around a lot longer than that, their feet shod in some very minimal items. So what’s going on here? As our running shoes evolve are the wearers actually devolving?

I know enough to know that I definitely don’t know the answer to this question. I’ve gone back and forth on the issue and I’ve moved from running in Nike Frees to running in Nike Frees with Sole Supports in them. Isn’t that odd?  From what I’ve read and experienced though, the issue of high-tech running shoes vs. low-tech running shoes vs. barefoot running is an extremely personal matter. What works miracles for one running may wreck havoc on another. It can be a maddening process trying to find the ideal way to address your feet.

If this topic is of any interest to you, I recommend strongly that you read the Science of Sport’s series on running.  It’s remarkably in-depth in its analysis of shoes, feet, and running technique.

Running in Groups


The Sept. 16 New York Times Personal Best column discusses the benefits of group running.  Several top runners and coaches are quoted as saying performance improves among athletes who train in groups.  Advocates of group training say that athletes train harder with a group compared to training alone.  Tim Nokes explains in Nokes’ Lore of Running that group training is a key component Kenyan runners—the best distance runners in the world.  Kevin Hanson, coach of the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project notes that runners in dominant distance running nations train in groups.

There’s actually scant scientific evidence that group training provides any benefit over training alone. (There are simply too many variables for which to account to do a valid scientific study.)  The experience of athletes and coaches however, and the results at the finish line gives strong suggestion that group training pays off.

Be careful though.  Group training tends to be more intense.  Too much intensity may lead to injuries such as shin splints, knee pain, or Achilles tendon irritation.  Intense training must be balanced with appropriate rest and recovery.

The article has some interesting information but I’m also a little confused about certain parts.  Both Dathan Ritzenhein and Kara Goucher referred to injuries they had sustained prior to running with a group.  The article seems to imply that they resolved their injuries simply by training in a group.  How did that happen?  The article also mentions the need for recovery and the possibility of training too hard due to the competitive dynamics of group training.  So what’s at work here?  Group training can help.  It might also hinder, but the issue of the runners’ injuries is never explained.  I’d like to see exactly how Ritzenhein and Goucher overcame their injuries.  Did running in a group have anything to do with the process?

Anyhow, here’s a list of Denver area running groups: