I Don't Think You're Going to Like This

Blog entry posted by rb2001, Apr 20, 2016.

A post by our fearless leader, TJ , got my head churning (see post here). Many thoughts and ideas have been floating around lately and this article seems to have created the catalyst to turn them into viewpoints. I think these viewpoints will not be all that popular in this community. I have elected to put them down and share them not because I feel they are needed, but because I feel I need to hear the other side.

It all started with that post that featured an article with the shocking headline: Running Science Backs Off The Minimalist Shoe.

The headline said science so it must be pretty sweet.

Normally I read, summarize some interesting points that I share and move on. This time I found myself in rant mode that became something more.

First of all, I have problem any headline claiming that "Science" acts as an individual. Science does nothing. Science is not an athropomorphic entity. It is a body of hundreds of thousands of people covering a gargatuan number of topics that are often not related to each other. To say that any branch of science is doing something on the basis of a single published study is to say humans are fleeing the planet based on the inhabitants of the ISS. Journalists really need to get their tiny little articulate brains wrapped around this concept.

Furthermore, scientific studies have never confirmed nor refuted barefoot running as reducing injuries. It's difficult to back off of something that scientists have never embraced. This makes the headline meaningless. The article itself doesn't fare much better.

As reported, there is no conclusion either way. The problem, as one study found, is that trying do double-blind research on this topic is really hard. Researchers find they have to rely on anecdotal responses more than anything. Nobody is investigating patients with injuries commonly related to running to see if investigating barefoot or shod running are a causal factor. A long term effects study is not happening as there are so few runners who have been running barefoot long term. Those that exist are not going to say anything but praise for it.

So the article is correct about the findings or rather the lack of findings. Interpreting it as science turning away from barefoot running is empty spin.

The article then departs from science and refers to opinions by Debbie Craig. While she has good credentials in her field of directing collegiate athletic programs, her opinions are not scientifically founded. Tales citing evidence of injuries attributed to barefoot running are not supported in the scientific literature. This was concluded by a literature review published in the Physicians and Sports Medicine Journal in 2014 (reference here).

Then the article goes total Simple Jack with, "if it ain't broke don't fix it." We may not have conclusive evidence about barefoot running and injury reduction, but we know with certainty that running = injuries. Depending on the study, ratio of runners injured due to running ranges from 70 - 80 percent. So for the 20 - 30 percent who get by without injury: yeah, keep going, your thirties are coming up soon. But the rest of us know that something is definitely broke and that something needs fixing.

p-p-p-please let me heel strike.

The fact is this article isn't based on actual running, but on shoe sales. Equating shoe sales to running techinique would strain credulity of even the most die hard junk scientist. Besides, the real question is in front of the author who never thinks to ask it: Why are people so eager to ditch the wedge shoe if it works so well?

If runners aren't injured on heel strike as the article implies, why are they abandoning the shoe that has supported them for 35 years? That is the change not being discussed. It's not the rush to the minimalist shoe that is the craze; it's the rush away from the wedge shoe. Runners want something else, they want to run free from injury and they want a shoe that will do that. That right there is the problem. The shoe can't fix it.

We hate Nike, Reebok, and Addidas not because they make bad shoes, but because this cartel sold the idea that a better shoe will better protect you. Their sin is not in making shoes that don't help, but in convincing multiple generations that shoes are the answer. Maybe one day we will learn that it isn't about the shoe; its about changing practices, habits and attitudes. I want to be hopeful for this, but given how many people still down vitamin pills and diet sodas, I have my reservations.

What studies have shown is that Air Jordans do nothing for injury prevention and barefeet are inconclusive for injury prevention. Therefore, the best scientific answer to the question of which is better is "dippity dippity derp".


Economics answers the question with much more clarity. Either shell out $150 for shoes every three months as is recommended or go out in nothing and pay nothing since the injury results are similar either way. Maybe you don't have to do either. Maybe you could select a reasonably priced foot cover that promotes barefoot running. Only there's a problem. Nothing like this exists.

For all my personal loathing of the cartel, I ask, are they alone? What should I make of others trying to sell me barefoot sandals with less technology than a ziploc bag for a hundred dollars or more? Are toe shoes anymore ethical? Do any of these warrant the investment, or are they just pricey symbols of our own devotion? If so, then maybe this article has a teeny bit of merit.

I have come to believe completely that no shoe being marketed to the barefoot/minimalist runner helps a person actually run in a barefoot technique. This inlcudes toe shoes, sandals, the cartel's crap, and my own aqua socks that I too often promote. I am not talking about something that gives you a complete barefoot experience; only barefoot running will do that. I am saying that if you want to run barefoot, but feel the need to wear some protection as you condition yourself, none of these shoes promote the actual technique. So while we shame the fascist wedge shoe cartel, we embrace other footwear that doesn't improve anything.

The reason they all fail is pretty simple. The coverage of the sole equalizes the sensations for the whole bottom of the foot. The feeling of the heel on the ground is the same as the feeling of the forefoot which is the same as the feeling of the toes. It doesn't matter how thin the protection is. The deadening of sensation is equal and universal for the entire sole. Barefoot running doesn't do this. The different sensations at different parts of the foot condition you to a different way of running. This is the magic that makes running barefoot the pathway to long-term running health.

If any foot cover is going to provide barefoot running technique, it needs to promote the forefoot as the primary landing position. It needs to protect that part more than the others. I reiterate that no shoe replaces barefoot running for teaching good long term running techniques. Regardless of what I am proposing, shoes alone do not solve the problem. I am suggesting that we might be able to get closer to a good barefoot technique with a cover that protects only part of the sole, the part we most use for landing.

If only such a thing existed

Let the search begin.

About the Author

Only puny secrets need protection. Big discoveries are protected by public incredulity.