by Bill Katovsky. The running world is still abuzz regarding Chris McDougall’s piece on natural running in the New York Times tantalizingly headlined, “The Once and Future Way to Run.” And judging from the number of comments on the Times’ Well blog, it only seems that the Great Footwear Debate is in its beginning stages. The modern march of minimalism toward natural running is being met with loud, vocal protests. (It’s not like the Occupy Wall Street movement, but the passions seem to register just as high.) Not all runners want to, or think they should embrace “less is more” or “barefoot in best.” Yet both camps cite anecdotal and “empirical” evidence to back up their claims. It’s like the Heisenberg Principle on steroids. Because runners all worry about the potential and prevention of injury; but when an injury does strike, it’s like living with a permanent eclipse darkening their world. Thus, runners understandably look at whether minimalism is good, bad, or evil though the prism of their own subjective experience. There’s nothing wrong with that; but it only sharpens the fangs of the debate.
Pete Larson, who was profiled in the McDougall article, aptly offered his summary concerning reader comments in the Well blog on his own blog called RunBlogger:
On the one hand there are folks decrying the use of anecdote and asking to see the data showing that barefoot is better, as well as those horrified at the thought of running barefoot on concrete. On the other hand are the exuberant individuals ready to head out and start padding along on their forefeet tomorrow, many of whom will probably hurt themselves in the process by forcing change too quickly. As usual, the middle ground tends to get lost, and that middle ground tends to be where I find myself these days. My general feeling is that there is no such thing as “perfect” running form, but rather that there is a “best” running form for each individual given the peculiarities of their own anatomy, physiology, and personal history (shoes, activity level, etc.)
Given my thoughts about form, I also don’t think there is a perfect shoe for all runners, nor do I think everyone should go barefoot. To be honest, I don’t even think science currently provides particularly good answers as to what any individual should wear or not wear on their feet. I think runner’s need not be afraid to experiment, and that they should take what they are told in most running stores with a grain of salt.
Thank you, Pete. One reader comment on the Times blog about running lightly and softly resonated with me. Fanny wrote, “It’s a lot like dancing lindy-hop, which is done on the balls of the feet. It’s a light and hoppy dance, very bouncy, with soft knees, danced to fast jazz.” Since I can’t dance, I headed over to YouTube and came across this wonderful Lindy Hop video taken at the world’s biggest swing dance/lindy hop event in Sweden (of all places). Featured here are the Harlem Hot Shots (from Sweden) who performed with a Swedish swing band Gentlemen & Gangsters. Yes, the dancers are up on the balls of their feet; something runners should take notice of. As for the up-and-over-the- body somersaults, that’s probably not a good idea while out for a run with a training partner of the opposite sex. Also: check out their footwear!