Archive for February, 2009

The argument over barefoot running continues

We started this shoe journey by looking at the argument for barefoot living. Many people are choosing to abandon their shoes in favour of healthy feet, even in cities such as New York. Others opt for barefoot shoes, which provide feet with a measure of protection while also providing the illusion of bare-footedness. The arguments for and against living barefoot focus primarily on the benefits that each has to offer for your feet. Pro-bare-footers feel that shoes hamper the natural action of feet and actually cause damage, while those who are pro-shoes (largely of a scientific mien) argue that shoes are designed with specific protective purposes.

Rick Rober is a bare-footer (bare-footist?) who has been running barefoot for the last five odd years, and that includes 40 marathons. He started running barefoot when his knees starting giving him trouble. Knees are often the first things to go among professional and amateur runners and Rober thinks that this is because people run “stupid”. Worried that some form of surgery was on the horizon, Rober read about another barefoot marathon runner and decided to give it a go. And it stuck.

In an NY Times article, Rober said, “Running shoes give you this false sense of security. They have so much padding you think you can run as hard as you want, and then they start breaking down. But smaller, quicker steps are better for your legs.” He believes that running shoes encourage over-striding, which increases the impact to your heels and causes “blunt-force trauma up the shin and calf” up to the knee. Shorter strides, adopted by barefoot runners, displace the impact around the foot and limit the damage that travels up your legs.

His argument is counted by Dr Lewis Maharam, a sports medicine specialist and medical director of the NY City Marathon. Dr Maharam says that running without shoes does more harm than good because barefoot runners don’t have any control over their foot strike. He allows that running barefoot a couple of times a week for short distances only can have some beneficial effect by strengthening foot muscles, but that you need good running shoes in order to address biomechanical issues.

But Rober isn’t having any of it. He’s found a method that works for him and that he believes has eased his knee problems. And with 558 consecutives days of running barefoot, one would be hard pressed to convince him, and many others, otherwise. According to Rober, conditioning the soles is the most important thing to keep in mind when discarding your shoes. He recommends that beginners start off on grass and gradually move to harder, more abrasive surfaces. His feet are not pretty much perfectly conditioned, and Rober says that they resemble “moccasin leather”, but aren’t unsightly.

An article on seems to support Rober and his theories barefoot running. After some research it was found that running in shoes has the potential to increase the risk of ankle sprains, as well as injuries to the lower leg. Running barefoot, however, reduced oxygen consumption and improved energy efficiency.

In Gordon Pirie is quoted as saying:

“There is no point in running large distances until the athlete has learned to run correctly. I cannot emphasize this point enough. An athlete who runs correctly can train hard for years without any time lost to stress-related injuries. I have trained very hard for 45 years and have suffered only two or three injuries which have stopped me from training. My longevity is a direct result of paying close attention to the way I run, and what I put on my feet”

Whether you choose to run shod or barefoot, the most important thing to do is ensure that you learn to run properly. Most of us run perfectly well when we are children, largely because we run barefoot and our feet haven’t been conditioned to shoes. As we grow up we start to wear shoes more often than not and our feet adapt to their semi-permanent casings, which can teach us bad habits, such running heel first. Runtheplant argues that the basic design of our feet dictates that we land on the ball of the foot when running and that this propels forward movement, while land on our heels actually break the natural running movement and slows us down. Landing heel first also unnecessarily increases the impact to joints, tendons and muscles.

The bottom line is, get up from your couch, leave your screen (be it computer or television) behind and get active.

(additional barefoot running blogs:

Running barefoot

Run Barefoot)


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Soles4Souls: saving the world one pair of shoes at a time

Soles4Souls is a nonprofit organisation that collects “gently” used shoes for people who have been affected by natural disasters – hurricanes, floods – as well as people beset by poverty all over the world. It was officially founded in 2006, but was borne out of the great need that resulted after the 2004 tsunami in Malaysia. Wayne Elsey and brothers, Nick and Paul Wilson, of Old Hickory joined forces to collect 250,000 pairs of shoes for those affected by the tsunami. They reunited to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina and Soles4Souls came into being.

To date, Soles4Souls have donated more than 4 million pairs of shoes to people around the world and is supported by a number of A-list celebrities, sports federations and chain stores in the US. Scarlett Johansson, Angela Basset and Denzel Washington are just a few of the world-class celebs who have thrown their weight behind the organisation.

Hob-nobbing with such big names has done little to change Elsey, however, largely because he remains clueless as to whom his supporters are. According to Kevin Goughary, chief financial officer of Soles4Souls, Elsey is extremely good at what he does but when it comes to sports and pop culture he doesn’t have a clue. Before a benefit concert by Billy Joel, Elsey had to go out and buy a CD just so that he knew who Joel was. His opinion was that Billy Joel is “pretty good”.

Denzel Washington was luckier, however, and even has the honour of being able to call Elsey on his personal cell phone. With all of the attention his organisation is getting, Elsey is getting better at recognising celebrities. Two stints at the Sundance Film Festival will do that for you.

On an international level, Soles4Souls aims to address the needs of those who make their living scrounging around the garbage in landfills, orphans in Central and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia who have often never owned a pair of shoes in their entire lives and village women in rural Africa, America and Asia who have to several miles per day just to get water.

Within the US, they work towards alleviating the needs of those affected by natural disasters (a primary focus), addressing the needs of the poor in the Appalachia Mountains and providing shoes for abused and neglected children who attend special summer camps. They also focus on the needs of Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations, domestic abuse shelters, homeless shelters and inner city hospitals.

For all his famous connections, Elsey remains firmly grounded in the good work that his organisation does and says, “I’m just this guy who was running a company and started collecting shoes.” And unlike many people who proudly display their brushes with celebrity in photographs on their walls, Elsey chooses to display pictures of all the people he’s helped instead. Their smiles remind Elsey of the importance of his work and are reward enough for him.

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