Sometimes I get a little overzealous in my support of the natural running/barefoot running movement. This usually manifests itself in openly stating my goal of killing the modern motion control shoe. Sometimes it is important to take a step back and evaluate our own positions relative to the rest of the world.
Before I dive into the details, I should clarify my position.
- First, there is a right way to run and it does not involve landing on the heel. If you NEED a shoe to run properly, you’re doing it wrong.
- Second, shoes can provide valuable protection IF they allow you to run with the same form you’d use if running barefoot. Technology cannot improve the function of the human body.
- Third, the fastest, most efficient way to learn to run with good form is to lose the shoes and utilize the skin-on-ground tactile feedback. Adding ANYTHING to your foot during this learning process slows progress, though it is possible.
- Fourth, there would be no need to “learn” good form if we didn’t put our children in raised heel cushioned
foot coffinsshoes. Good form is the default setting; bad form is learned. As a result, it must be unlearned.
Okay, now that I have that established, here are some common mistakes I make when dealing with others:
- I sometimes forget there’s a huge number of runners that have used modern running shoes for years without injury. This is the reason I came up with the “there is no single right answer” principle. If somebody is doing something and getting satisfactory results, they should not change. Furthermore, I shouldn’t try convincing them they need to change.
- I’m unnecessarily hostile toward the medical community. While some people in the medical field are openly embracing the natural running movement, others are either remaining silent or speaking out against it. Over the last 30 years, the current “prescribe a shoe/orthotic that will fix flawed form” paradigm has been the norm. This paradigm has helped people, even if it just alleviates symptoms. This is the paradigm the medical community has embraced and taught for decades. It would be irresponsible for them to suddenly change course because of anecdotal evidence. THIS WILL CHANGE! As the body of empirical data supporting natural running grows, the medical community will be able to safely recommend different solutions to problems. I need to do more to support those doing the research and spend less time attacking the medical profession.
- I need to be more realistic about the limitations others have regarding barefoot running. Even though I am a pretty big supporter of minimalist shoes, I sometimes get a little pious about barefoot running. I need to remember that some people simply do not have interest or a suitable environment to run barefoot. If these people are making a choice between learning in minimalist shoes or staying in cushioned shoes, I’d rather see them in minimalist shoes.
- I have to chill out about minimally-raised heels. This is a biggie for me. I’ve spent years talking about the stupidity of “easing into” minimalist shoes by moving to a reduced shoe like the Free or Kinvara. Unfortunately, this option is very attractive to others and I don’t have the educational reach to change people’s minds. I can’t influence the marketing machines of Nike and Saucony. This is a good example of me needing to take a step back and looking at the situation objectively. A lot of people have made a successful transition to minimalist shoes or even barefoot using this method. I don’t think it is necessarily best practices, but it does work. I need to realize this still accomplishes my goal of improving running form for the masses. I can’t bring myself to openly embrace these shoes, but I can tolerate them as an alternative means to a desirable end.
- I need to do more to support local running stores that support the natural running movement. This was the motivation for my last post. Some stores are doing a phenomenal job of educating the running public, especially brand-new runners. The leaders of this trend are the minimal-only stores like Jill and Tim Murphy’s Good for the Soles in Northampton, MA and Mark Cucuzzella’s Two Rivers Treads in Sheperdstown, WV. There are more of these popping up around the country, and I need to support them. Also, I need to support the more traditional stores that are making a similar paradigm shift. Shelly and I will hopefully get to visit many of these on our big adventure starting in July.
- I need to be a little sympathetic to the economics of running stores that still sell traditional shoes to new runners. This is another tough one for me because it goes against everything I believe. Here’s the situation- a brand new runner enters a running store and wants a “comfortable shoe.” The store employee recommends they try a minimalist shoe or take a running form class or clinic, but they have zero interest. I believe they shouldn’t sell the cushioned shoe. HOWEVER, the shoe store owners and employees are just putting food on their table. I cannot fault them for selling the cushioned shoe. My responsibility has to be to educate the consumer so they don’t ask for the cushioned shoe, then send them to a store that will teach good form.
- I need to step up my efforts to educate retail sales associates that sell shoes. I think this is a bottle-neck for expanding the natural running movement. Shoe store employees have likely learned everything they know from people and companies that sell foot coffins. If they do recommend minimalist shoes, they usually do not offer good advice on changing form or exercising patience. If they are taught the principles, they become a powerful tool to expanding the natural running movement.
- I need to concede that the industry has adopted a different vocabulary. I’ve mentioned this before, but it is worth mentioning again. The entire outdoor industry now refers to minimalist shoes (Vibrams, Merrells, Minimus Trails, Kigos, etc.) as “barefoot shoes.” They refer to reduced shoes (Minimus Roads, Frees, Kinvaras, etc.) as “minimalist shoes.” This bugs the hell out of me because it is an oxymoron, confuses new runners, and creates a barrier for eduction. I’ll have an entire conversation with someone where I’m giving them advice on form and such. At the end, they’ll say something like “Thanks for the advice, this will definitely help me run barefoot in my new Bikilas!” GAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!! As annoying as this is, it is a lost battle. I could either dig in my heels and bitch to the small group of people that agrees with me and continue to be frustrated, or I can use this as an opportunity to teach people about the benefit of actual barefoot running. To quote Storm Shadow, “Never fight a battle you cannot win.” Yes, I’m quoting the fictional ninja from G.I. Joe.
While I sincerely believe all the principles I teach, I have to recognize the beliefs are not universal. Many people see it as dogma. I have to be more careful in my efforts to reach my goals. I have to know my audience. Sometimes it’s okay to stand on my soapbox and preach to the true believers. Other times I need to take a more pragmatic approach. I have to work to understand other points of view. More importantly, I have to concede that others may have correct answers, too, even if they contradict my own beliefs.
Quick personal note- Tokyo Dad, I apologize for my repeated reference to this as a “movement”, I know it annoys you. I like the terminology too much to abandon it.