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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Barefoot Running vs. Running Shoes - "New Method"

The new buzz around the running world is the hot debate:

Barefoot Running (or Nearly Barefoot) vs. The Running Shoe

I am an avid runner that is always tweaking my stride to try and find the most efficient and best feeling way to run. I do it so often that it has become a joke with my wife and I. We call it the “new method.” She is always asking, “What's your new method today?” She thinks it's funny that I think so hard about running. She also runs and simply states that she just runs, she doesn't have to think about it, she just does it. Part of this thinking is me wanting to get the most out of my training and become the best runner I can, another part is me just being me. I have a “new method” pretty much for everything I do: golfing, xc skiing, tennis, hockey, cycling, swimming. If I am doing it, I am trying to think of better ways it can be done. In most cases I think just because we have been doing something one way for such a long time doesn't mean it's the best way. I am an artist/sculptor/inventor so this is just how I am wired I guess.

OK, back to the debate. There are products out there right now, Vibram FiveFingers, Nike Free, Newton All-Weather Trainer, that are getting momentum from the barefoot running community. I'm not going to go into detail for each product, but the basic idea behind all of them is to promote a foot-strike similar to what one would do naturally running barefoot. They help you land on the forefoot/mid-foot area of you feet. Many knowledgeable academics claim this is the natural way our bodies are meant to run, this is how everyone runs when they are barefoot. It takes the pressure off the heal and lets your foots natural spring mechanism do the work on impact. Some say running shoes today not only promote an improper heel-to-toe foot strike with their large heel padding, but they are so supportive that it doesn't allow your muscles to be worked properly, resulting in weakened muscles prone to injuries.

As you can guess I have to try it out. I will be documenting my runs daily or almost daily as I transition to the forefoot method of running. To start off I am not going to be running barefoot, or in Vibram's or Nike Frees. I have decided to use my Brooks T4 Racers. These are very minimal racing flats that I thought have needed to be upgraded for quite some time (my pair, not the design). I think they will do since they are extremely light and don't have much stability to them. As I have researched this topic, experts say to start slow and ease into the transition, letting your body get used to the new wear and tear. That's not my style, but I am telling myself I should be fine since most of my shoes are light minimal trainers anyway. I'm telling myself I have built up enough muscle strength from previous runs with the old method to validate flying out of the gates with my “new method,” whether this is true or not, I doubt it.