Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Heel Striking: The Bad Idea that Won’t Die.

I just came across a recent article that my friend and favorite barefoot/minimalist guru, Jason Robillard, wrote in his blog, called “The Heel Striking Experiment: Why Bad Form is Stupid.” In it, he addresses the very same topic that I struggle with all the time: how consistently reluctant heel-striking runners are about improving their form. The refusal to even attempt the change is astounding, even if they’ve heard over and over again how important it is, how good form can whittle away many nagging injuries, how it can keep them running longer and happier. In his well-written article, Jason asks us:

“WHY WOULD YOU RUN IN A WAY THAT ENGAGES THE BRAKES WITH EACH STEP?!?”

Well, I think I know the answer to that.

You see, people in general like to do what they are told. We live the course of our lives based on what we are expected to do. Grow up, go to college, get a day job, get married, have kids, buy a house, buy a practical car, get credit cards, drink milk, and the list goes on. And if you decide you’re going to be a runner? You’re supposed to walk into a running shoe store at the mall and have a 19 year old part-time employee (who probably doesn’t run) “fit” you for the “right” stability shoe for your level of “pronation.” Then, and only then, can you attempt to run. Right?

Wrong. So, so very wrong.

But hey, we can’t help it. We humans are essentially pack animals. The strongest perceived leader gets all the loyalty. In this case, it’s Nike. Asics. Brooks. Whatever brand the sales guy thinks we should be wearing this year. And that’s why sales people do so well in our society. So if you’re a new runner, the running shoe sales guy is the precious link to your perceived leader, he knows what you should be wearing on your feet. So you listen to him. You do what you’re told, like a good consumer. And you are never told by your leader that you need to learn good form. Instead, you are told that if you buy this magical $180 gel-stuffed, super-stability heel lift, it will miraculously bypass any and all flaws in your poor running form and make you run injury-free. Of course the biggest hole in this theory begins with the notion alone that you are flawed. You are flawed because you have flat feet. Weak ankles. Bad knees. Bunions. You overpronate, underpronate.

Almost everyone who walks into a running shoe store is convinced (by their “leader”) that there is something wrong with them that would prohibit running, unless of course they purchase their very own miracle shoe before they leave the store. So many runners fail to ever pick up on the idea that maybe it’s been the shoes that have given them all these problems to begin with. Or at least that perhaps, just maybe, the feet they were born with are just fine on their own.

Barefoot and minimalist running has grown a lot over the past few years. I have faith that it will grow exponentially in the next few. But the crucial ideation about form and footwear will never truly take off for the lot of us pack animals unless it becomes the “leader” that the masses will follow. And what leader? Christopher McDougall? Nah. The medical field? Yeah right. No, it’s going to have to be someone like Nike, Asics or Brooks. Someone who feeds the consumer pack its shovelfuls of good authority and celebrity endorsements. Sorry to be such a cynic, but it’s true. The big boys are going to have to start selling minimalist shoes, in order for the masses to decide the theories about good running form are true.

But in the meantime, I will be spreading as many kernels of knowledge as I can to those around me who like to run. Help them realize that there is something to wearing less shoe, to learning about good form. Perhaps even convince them that they’re not broken, and they can run after all…and love it. And most importantly, that they don’t have to conform to some arbitrary authority over their footwear. Maybe one or two of them might actually listen.

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