A debate sprung up recently on the Barefoot Runners Society forums regarding BRS support for a company that used questionable marketing to promote their minimalist shoes. This is a tricky issue that springs up on occasion. For barefoot runners, how much do you support minimalist shoe companies?
Some people choose to take an idealist approach and demand all companies acknowledge the superiority of barefoot running, never use marketing that promotes their shoes as being better than barefoot, and even demand companies stop using the term “barefoot shoes.”
Some people choose to take a cynical approach to barefoot running and will do anything to “sell out” win the favor of a shoe company, including things like requesting sponsorship or posting their race results on a company’s Facebook page.
The idealists, while taking what they believe to be a morally-superior position, tend to alienate anyone and everyone that may have a differing opinion. In regards to barefoot running, they tend to alienate those that have no interest in actually running barefoot full-time or may run in conditions that are not conducive to barefoot running. This group is almost always new barefoot runners that don’t have enough experience to understand the limitations of barefoot running. This is the group that inspired my “Apple Whack-job” post a few months ago.
The sell-outs, in an attempt to win the affection of a company that will provide them with sponsorship, dilute their message too much to matter. It becomes clear barefoot running is a means to an end, and that “end” is usually material gain. They will change their message or beliefs at the drop of a hat if they believe it will result in their own gain. Interestingly, this group is also usually made up of newer barefoot runners.
Neither of these individuals are terribly effective at actually spreading the ideals of barefoot running.
The rest of us land somewhere in that vast gray area that is the middle. We understand the advantages and disadvantages of barefoot running, but also see the advantages and disadvantages of good minimalist shoes. We constantly walk a fine line between these two extremes. We continually adjust our position as new information and situations arise.
The goal is always the same- how do we reach a point of peak effectiveness?
In this case, I’m talking about effectiveness in regards to teaching or spreading the word about barefoot running. How much should you support barefoot running? How much should you support minimalist shoe running? This is a case I encounter often, and have been able to find the middle ground by educating myself as much as possible. I strive to understand all of the pros and cons of both conditions and how they relate to individual situations. I try to gather as many teaching tools as possible, then work on the methods used to use the tools to help others.
The issue of peak effectiveness can also be re-framed as running performance. How much barefoot training do you do? Should you run a race barefoot? The goal is the best race possible. The variables are time goals, terrain, temperature, our current physical state, etc. If we’re running a casual 5k in San Diego in February, the decision is pretty easy. If we’re running a 100 miler in the back country of Montana, that’s an easy decision, too. Anything in between becomes more difficult. For me, experience in both conditions helps determine what you can and cannot do barefoot.
The peak effectiveness discussion can also be re-framed to involve the running of a website or other organization. How much real estate (writing, ads, etc.) should be dedicated to barefoot running? How much should be dedicated to minimalist shoes? Here at BRU, the decision is easy. The site is dirt-cheap to run. I do everything myself most of the time, so my overhead is incredibly low. I purposely choose to not show ads because I don’t need the extra cash right now. If I someday need the cash, that may change. Likewise, if I get around to having a pro redesign the site, I’ll likely need ads to pay for the changes. as far as writing, I don’t really worry about it. I write about whatever comes to mind. Sometimes it involves barefoot running. Sometimes it involves shoes. Most of the time it’s about something only tangentially related to running.
So what happens if we occupy one of the extreme positions? Let’s take a look at a non-running situation:
There was a news story recently about a school that wouldn’t allow cell phones during graduation practice. One of their graduates was a baseball phenom that was expected to be drafted in the first round. New baseball draft rules require draftees to essentially negotiate a contract as soon as they’re drafted, so the kid had to have in phone with him. The school wouldn’t bend on the policy, so the kid skipped practice. As a result, the administration wouldn’t let him participate in the graduation ceremony.
As a former teacher, I saw this happen A LOT. Some people completely ignore the big picture and focus only on the policies, rules, or some morally-superior position. Here’s a kid that was about to be drafted and sign a million dollar-plus contract. The school should have been celebrating the accomplishments of their soon-to-be alumni. Instead, they chose to “stick to their guns” and follow the policy. They wanted to be right, not effective.
I simply do not understand this line of black-and-white thinking. The argument the admin probably used was along the lines of “If we change the rules for one, we’d have to change the rules for all.” BIG F-ING DEAL… THIS KID IS A FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICK! This would have put the school on the map. If they hadn’t pissed the kid off, he likely would have donated money. The school could have turned this into a huge press conference to get tons of positive press which would have made the school a desirable destination in the area. Instead, the admin looks like a bunch of arrogant a-holes that see the world as black-and-white. I’d never send my kids to that school.
The stance the admins at that school took simply doesn’t make sense. Yeah, they made a point. That’s great. But at what cost?
My best advice- avoid both extremes. It’s easy to take on of the two positions at the end of the spectrum. It’s far more difficult to find that point in the vast middle ground where peak effectiveness lies. Do that work, though. You’ll appreciate the results.