Below, my sister, Sad Robots, tries to convince you of all the ways barefoot running is better than regular shoe running.  However, I want to point out that she never really goes in to how much not running prevents all running-related injuries.

Sad Robots’ Controversial Science Things

As a graduate in the field of psychology, the applied aspect of my degree was learning how to get whatever results I wanted to find from whatever test I was doing. I learned how to manipulate statistics to support theories like, “The belief in zombies is directly correlated to fitness levels in American males between the ages of 18 and 25.” Well, that might actually be legit, but you get my point.

What I’m really saying is that I’m difficult to sway when it comes to “scientific proof” of anything, specifically involving health. When it comes down to it, everyone is different, and some stressed-out grad student’s findings don’t necessarily negate last year’s stressed-out grad student’s opposing findings on the same topic. So when I read headlines like, “Heroin is healthy for you!” I realize that there are a multitude of factors to consider before I decide to become a druggie.

I tend to hand-pick random crap to obsess over (my dear sister calls these things my “schemes”) and trust that someone else has done the “scientific proof” for me. My “scientific proof” is using myself as a guinea pig because hey, if I’m going to do crazy things, it might as well be for the sake of science.

So, to answer some Sad Robots FAQ, here are the things I do and why in a series of guest posts I like to call “Sad Robots’ Controversial Science Things.”

Barefoot Running

In my last guest post, I recommended some handy dandy fitness gear, including the ever-awesome Vibram FiveFingers, and because of that, I have officially gained Girl About Town’s approval to delve further into the topic of barefooting.

To begin, I’d like you to consider what you wear on your feet while you’re at home. The answer is probably “nothing” or “socks.” Ask yourself why. If the answer is, “Because it’s more comfortable,” then I don’t get why you need to read any further.

Being barefoot is just more comfortable.

I get a lot of flak for this theory and I don’t know why. People really love their Nikes and they don’t like that I tell them that Nike is a huge factor in the American obesity epidemic. Nike is the reason you’re not happy with your body. Nike is the reason you don’t like running because you get shin splints. Nike is the reason you believe in crap like “arch support.” (Arch support doesn’t even make sense. Your foot arches support your body, like arches are wont to do [see: doorways, etc.] so why would your arches need support? If they did, we would have no doorways and we’d all be trapped in sad, dark rooms.)

Without citing my references, because, really, I don’t click on citations and I’m also just pulling from memory, the short of it is that in the 70s, the guy who made Nike decided that people needed cushioning for their feet. So instead of doing rigorous empirical testing on what that would do to the human body, he just decided to make it, market it, and shove it down the throats of the public. And we sure took it like a champ.

It turns out that putting a solid inch or so of rubber under our feet is really, really bad for our bodies. Just like having huge gloves on in the winter makes it more difficult for you to pick your keys up in the snow when you drop them, wearing sneakers on your feet makes it really hard to judge what kind of ground you’re walking on, what kind of steps you should be taking, how fast or slow you should be moving, where your center of balance should be, and so on and so forth. It ruins your walking gate, your running gate, the way you step, and how hard you step. For some reason, the image of putting rubber boots on a pug always comes to mind when I explain this to people. The pug has no idea what these atrocious, gaudy feet-thingies are, and so it starts to walk around all funny, trying to shake the boots off because it suddenly can’t feel the ground anymore.

I don’t need to tell you any of this because this great guy named Christopher McDougall wrote an amazing, enthralling, life-changing book called Born to Run. That’s my source. Read it.

Like a good narcissist, I’m going to bring this back to me now.

What has barefooting done for me other than make me a total snob? Well I’ll be happy to give you my first-hand account of spending the past year mostly barefoot.

It all started last July when I wanted to get into running. Like all good academics, though, before I ventured out my front door, I had to read 8,000 books on the topic before I was convinced that I should do this complex, difficult activity called “running.” Before I picked up Born to Run but after beginning my research, I had started jogging at the gym in a pair of Pumas I had on hand and had barely worn. After about two weeks, I got this horrible pain on the side of my leg accompanied by some swelling. I went to the doc, and he said to stay off it for a couple weeks. So I did.

I bought an ankle brace, and that helped a little. Then I splurged and bought the best reviewed, best priced pair of shoes I could find: Saucony Jazz 13s. When I put them on, it was like I was walking on clouds. I started getting more serious about running and I was logging more mileage per week than my car (Note: severe exaggeration). Like all things I get really manically obsessed with, something horrible happened that put a plug on my irrationally-founded dreams: I broke my foot.

It wasn’t like I tripped over a rock or got into a fight with a bear or anything cool like that. It was a stress fracture, so it took a couple weeks to set in. It took three times longer than that to heal, and my thus-far successful weight loss had to go on hiatus.

While I was healing, I read Born to Run. Suddenly I found myself walking around downtown Dayton during my lunch hour barefoot, holding my heels in one hand and my iPod in the other. In most other cities, you’d probably get stared at for this behavior. In Dayton, I didn’t get a second glance. That’s why I love this place.

What I found was that it was fun to walk around barefoot. I got asked, “But what if you step on something?” and my answer was, “I just pay attention to where I’m walking.” I mean, you don’t randomly grasp at things without looking at what you’re picking up, so why do you walk around without attending to what you’re stepping on? It really doesn’t exert that much mental effort. It’s the same as paying attention to stop signs while you’re driving. They may be in your peripheral vision, but you still, consciously or unconsciously, know to stop the car or you’ll probably get hurt. When you walk around barefoot, you eventually begin to attend to the ground unconsciously, and you avoid stepping on things that will hurt you.

My stress fracture eventually healed and I got a pair of Vibram FiveFingers to test out. I read so much literature on them and how to use them and what you should do before you run in them that I was pretty sure running in them for the first time would be a death sentence.

What I found was that all the pain I had while running in my Pumas or Sauconys just… disappeared. Instantly. What I also found was that my center of balance shifted downward while I ran and my heels didn’t touch the ground. I moved faster, lighter, and for longer distances. I was amazed.

Fast forward to last week: I’m kind of sick of getting guff for my VFFs. I still wear them when I run and when I go to the gym, but I find that the pair I have, the Sprints, aren’t really good for hiking. They’re for running on pavement. Vibram makes hiking FiveFingers, but I also decided I would like a pair of more “normal” looking barefoot shoes, so I settled on the Merrill Pace Gloves. It’s only been a few days, but I’m happy with them so far. They’re pretty and comfy and make my feet happy.

So here is my advice to you: Go outside without shoes. Step carefully. Take note of the things you’re thinking and feeling. Go inside and do a Google search on barefoot running. Read some reviews on barefoot shoes. Maybe read Born to Run if you wanna. Or maybe just take my word for it. Whatever. The point is you read this, and maybe it answered some questions for you that you were too afraid to ask that weird guy with dreads you saw at the bookstore wearing VFFs. Maybe you have more questions. If so, feel free to email me, or contact Girl About Town with your questions and I can answer them in YET ANOTHER guest post on barefooting, which I’m sure she’ll love. Really. Do that.

If you liked that, Sad Robots would be delighted to write about one or all of the following schemes topics:

Intermittent Fasting

Polyphasic Sleeping

Minimalism

Obsessive Researching

Advertisements