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Friday, November 4, 2011
Is "good form" the new barefoot?
Yesterday, Christopher McDougall released his latest article in the New York Times Magazine. The article is kind of a follow-up on his bestselling book, "Born to Run". It details a lot of what Christopher has been thinking about and investigating since he published the book. Like all of his word, it's very well written and entertaining. I suggest you check it out.
The article meanders from one intriguing topic to another, but the main point deals with how we can learn to run injury-free by adopting so-called "good running form". That is to say, if we all learn to run with a forefoot strike.
My thought after reading this article was this: "Remember when barefoot running was the ticket to running injury-free?" That if we all took off our shoes we'd be running for hundreds of miles pain-free like the Tarahumara Indians, but without all the man-dresses and access to corn-based moonshine?
I know from experience that it's not that simple. Barefoot running certainly has taken my own running to places I never thought possible. Usually, nine miles or so into a run in cushioned trainers my hips would be so sore I could barely walk. I took off my shoes and was running a half-marathon within a month (by the way...don't transition that way). I've become a barefoot ultra marathoner; something I've never though I could do.
I've also been hurt in one way or another for a good portion of that time. From the same kinds of injuries that plague shod runners. I've gotten IT band syndrome, patellar tendinitis, piriformis syndrome, peroneal tendinitis, and a bunch of other fun stuff. I've never thought of barefoot running as the cure for my running injuries. I do it because it makes my running more enjoyable. That's it. I have no illusions about it making me bulletproof.
But when "Born to Run" came out, that's what everyone was saying barefooting would do. We swung the pendulum too far in that direction. The conclusions of things like the Harvard Barefoot Study were extended a bit too far. Sensationalist claims were made.
The result was a movement. A majority of barefoot runners nowadays were in some way inspired to do so by that book. People flocked to the stores to buy those "barefoot shoes", or ripped their running shoes off and ran the bottoms of their feet off. One little book started a mini-revolution.
It's been a pretty amazing journey for this weird little sport. I'm not sure if this progress would have been possible had it happened any other way. At the same time, revolutions usually have a lot of causalities. Lots of people have gotten hurt. Misinformation has been spread (did you know that there are these shoes that let you run barefoot?!). The Fila Skeletoe actually exists.
The downside of the whole thing is that I feel like half of my time in this movement is spent creating a movement to combat the movement. I've spent the better part of my three year journey educating people that you can't just rip off your shoes and run pain-free. You have to start slow and transition. Even then it's not a silver bullet. We are still learning about the benefits of barefoot running. Things aren't as simple as they were made out to be.
I read this article, and as great as it was, I thought to myself, "Here we go again." According to this article, the next savior for us injury-plagued runners isn't our footwear. It's our form. According to McDougall, forefoot-strike and the 100-up drill is the new way to better, faster, injury-free running.
And maybe it is. Right now the debate over good running form is still very much unsettled. Forefoot striking certainly seems more bio-mechanically efficient. It has many other good qualities. We have a lot of great people studying the issue. But it's not altogether clear that it prevents injuries.
So my request is this: Can we NOT do the whole Born to Run-style movement thing all over again? I love my bro Chris McDougall to death. He does fantastic work, and he is a constant source of inspiration to me. But I feel like we're about to experience the whole phenomenon again, but this time with "good form" taking the place of "barefoot" as our new holy grail. And this article is the start.
Pretty soon is everyone going to be rushing out to find a pair of those "forefoot shoes"? Or attend a forefoot running clinic (I hope so, because I'll be hosting a few...*wink*!)? Am I going to have to join the Forefoot Runners Society too? Or change my name to the Maple Grove Forefoot Guy? That's just not as catchy people. And it kind of makes me sound like I have a foot fetish.
As I've written before, I think good form running is a concept that we can all unite around. This is the right way to push change in the running industry, and probably was from the start. I am just wondering out loud if we need to do it in the same way again. I don't think I can handle another movement. I've got enough going on with this one. Maybe we could go a little slower this time? Or work from the inside?
I don't know dude. I'm just that barefoot guy. I prefer to answer such questions in the immortal words of Walter Sobchak (The Big Lebowski): Fuck it dude...let's go bowling.
What do you folks think? Or is this stuff too heady for a Friday?