Running shoe "myths"

I am an old man - and a cynic. I am always suspicious of people who have vested interests in any argument. I am also aware that stories are repeated on the Internet for long enough and often enough that they become Gospel truth.

Over 30 years ago, there was no such thing as a running shoe Industry. Today there is. My understanding is that it all came about from a theory that if runners could take much longer strides they could run much faster. Trouble is that to run with very long strides, you must land on your heels( then roll through to your forefoot) and humans are not built to land on their heels. So - the answer to this dilemma was to engineer a pair of shoes that provided thick padding under the heels. Trouble is with this was that , having landed on the heels, the foot then rolls through to the forefoot in different ways - inwards, outwards and straight (neutral) ( depending on "pronation") . This meant that 3 more kinds of shoes needed to be invented/designed and a whole generation of Podiatrists trained to tell people which shoes they should wear ( after "gait analysis). The shoe manufacturers thought that this new industry was wonderful - and furthermore noticed that people liked different coloured shoes - and were also very prone to suggestion that a new model was better than last years model :) Hence the proliferation of different models of running shoes every year.

My personal uneducated and cynical answer to this is to learn to run correctly (on our forefeet/midfeet) and run in simple unpadded shoes. Your shins and calves will complain for a while -- and even more so if you have already run in highly engineered running shoes for a number of years as your feet will now be weaker for that.

I am running in Nike Free 5.0 shoes , a very simple flexible and comfortable shoe with minimal padding and no "control" -- no gait analysis. I am anything but a running God with superior feet.

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  • Great discussion Bazza, we all have different takes On Things like shoes.

    My understanding is that it is a very complex problem. Your right about the shoe issue and the global market that surrounds them. I also agree about the fact we used to run in simple shoes years ago with no problems. But that's where I think the discussion gets difficult. I went to a seminar this year about looking after yourself for marathon training. One of the things they did was put a surgical stocking on the shins of one of the participants and draw a line down the middle. She was the asked to jump from one foot to the other. As she did this (in bare feet). You could see the whole shin go out of place and with that see the pressure that would then be put on the knee and then that would travel up to the hips. If you added wrong shoes to that as well it wouldn't be long until the joints would be in a lot of trouble. The way that she had to sort the problem out was not down to shoes but stretching her glutes. Years of bad posture and sitting down at work had lead to bad muscle tone that could not support her legs correctly when she applied the force pressure of running.

    So I agree yes we should all be in standard shoes, bad habits along the way have lead many of us to bad posture and some do have structural abnormalities that only really get highlighted when you start to run. So I think some people need a little extra help to train their muscles to the correct place.

    In my personal experience I believe stretching all the muscles is just as benifical as what shoes you wear.

  • Very interesting and my personal experience definitely tallies with what rfc says, stretches have helped me hugely with my biomechanical issues. I prefer minimal shoes too, and also wear Nike Free 5.0, although the salesman did advise against running longer distances in them.

  • Similar experience to me -- I almost had to INSIST that I wanted the Nike Free 5.0's to the shop assistant. She was very reluctant to sell them to me.

  • Hi Bazza, I always like your posts - you seem to talk a lot of sense, but this time your post - about landing mid foot whilst running - is at odds with what Laura says - she advises landing on the heel to avoid injury. I have been doing this although it didn't seem altogether natural. Mentioned this to my brother in law, who is a marathon runner and he was surprised that had been told to land on heel too.Not sure how I should be running now.

  • This is a strange piece of advice from Laura at this point which confuses a lot of people. The NHS Choices advice is to land mid-foot: nhs.uk/Livewell/c25k/Pages/...

  • To be honest, I just run. Whether it's the correct way or not, I don't know and at this point I don't really care. If I began suffering and couldn't run then I would seek to solve the problems with corrective footwear but until then I am happy with off the shelf trainers :)

  • Thanks Hennith for the link - conflicting advice here - will start running how I feel comfortable from now on!

  • Having grown up in a home with a runner in it, I believe I can testify to runners fussing and bothering about shoes more than 30 years ago....

  • I'm not giving up my highly cushioned running shoes for anything! I find most ordinary non-running shoes uncomfortable and wear trainers or shoes/sandals with soft padded soles most of the time. Walking over cobblestones in non-padded shoes hurts me enough to make me cry, and at no time in my life have I ever managed to walk barefoot across a stony beach because it just hurts too much.

  • Hi Bazza, I was concerned about running shoes after one of your previous posts & at a recent Chi workshop I asked can the shoes with heel cushioning stop you landing mid foot. His answer reversed the question. He said less cushioning in the heel makes it more comfortable to land mid foot. If I ever get the hang of Chi running I will probably change to the transition shoe which has more or less the same cushioning all along the sole.

  • Waletta

    I have been running in a "transitioning" shoe ( not that I really need to transition from anything as I have never really run much before) . These are the Nike Free 5-0 - in fact I have just bought a second pair 2014 model because I bought the others a half size too small. They have been OK for running my usual runs up to 5K , but I am intending now to go further. I also bought a pair of Saucony Kinvara 3 2013 model - these get a good write up too as do the Nike Free 5's. I understand that the heel to toe drop on the Nikes is around 7mm and the Kinvaras 4mm.

    Re the heel cushioning shoes ( with heel to toe drops of around 12mm), I understand that it can be difficult to land mid-foot with these as the height of the heel gets in the way.

    I sometimes like to push an argument to "extremes" to consider how the outcome would result. So extreme Number 1 -- wear shoes with almost no heel - or indeed bare foot. How would you run ? Would this lead to a good running style. Etc . Extreme number 2 wear a pair of shoes with 3 inch heels -- how would you run in them? Would they lead to a good running style. OK - so I know they are extremes and probably somewhere in the middle lies a comfortable band neither too low or too high for you to run on your forefoot (Chi style)

  • I saw on The BBC that a marathon runner in London on Sunday was attempting to do it barefoot! Incredible, but surely not good for your feet, ankles, bones etc. Still, at least he's doing a marathon.

  • Probably not! :) However there is a "theory" that man has evolved to run long distances in bare feet to hunt and kill prey. ( I say "man" because basically "woman" did not hunt in those long distant times )

    The theory goes that a long time before man had more sophisticated weapons like throwing spears , they still hunted and killed animals. But these animals ran much faster than man - so how was it done. ?

    It is precisely because these animals had evolved to run very fast (but short distances) to escape predators -- and having run very fast, they then stopped and grazed after they had gotten away from the predator. During this time they would cool down. BUT - if man ran long and slowly after the animals and did not allow them time to cool down, then if this was kept up for long enough, the animals would eventually collapse from heat exhaustion. Hence mankind are now natural born long distance runners. :)

  • I presume the runner is used to running barefoot all the time. However marathons aren't really good for anyones' knees, joints, or bones, but are great achievements. As someone once said to me, she'd rather take up running even if it does effect her joints, then end up ill or dead due to no exercise! Good point.

    I'd also be worried that someone would step on my feet if I ran barefoot! No animal would collapse if I ran after them. :-)

  • To be fair I think it is all revelent and evolutionary.

    Take something as simple as light - okay I'm generalising with the years, but 150 years ago it was all lime and flame, 100 years ago it was gas filament (which still worked til the mid 80s - my parents caravans had gas lights). 80 years ago we had electric filament bulbs, then gas filled tubes reacting to phosphate paint, then halogen gas capsules with electric right up to led technology which is just coming mainstream for domestic light bulbs.

    How is this revelent? Well at the time it was all the latest "fad" and it took engineers, chemists and physicists decades to research the next fad.

    And the same is true with sport technology, yes the old stuff still works and does what it was designed to do. But the industry has matured, helped with technology and scientists and massive R&D from companies like Nike and Adidas with a major global brand. So yes we still have shoe technology from the 70s with rubber and sock absorbers, and still have this years release because people will replace and will want to buy the latest tech. And perhaps the next tech is to get back to natural running?

    Hands up who has ordered the iPhone6? And will you also I order iPhone7, 8 & 9

    So my cynical answer has to be to ask would you want to send a message using Morse code (which still works) or using a fax machine (which also still works) when you can text, IM and email?

    Personally I'm sticking with brooks, they work and do what I ask them tondo which is keep me injury free and help me to enjoy my running.

  • There is no question of me ever running barefoot!! :) -- but barefoot style is another thing.

  • If you don't run on your heels, I can't really see how elevated heels in shoes would be good for you.

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