Running Shoes: the worst idea ever

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Have you ever noticed that running magazines never publish a negative shoe review? It doesn’t take an MBA to figure out why. Ad revenue has to come from somewhere and running has to be the sport that, theoretically, requires the least amount of equipment.

A year of suffering from a painful plantar fasciitis, which I blame, in part, on shoes gives me the right to rant. Allow me to note that:

  • Shoe designs come not out of any kind of bio-mechanical research but simply out of the derriere of the handful of companies that make these horrid objects. Note what Daniel Lieberman of the Skeletal Biology Lab at Harvard has said, that there is simply not enough evidence to make any conclusions on how people should run or whether running shoes are a good idea or not. Remember that cushioned running shoes did not exist until the early 1970s.
  • They cost an obscene amount of money, little of which goes to the sweatshop workers who make them.
  • They are FREAKING UGLY. Who decided that all the principles of color theory should be thrown out the window when designing a running shoe? They look like the result of a dog eating pool toys and barfing them up.

Let me review my own sad running history. I ran in shoes for many years. Then I got a case of Plantar fasciitis. I cured that with barefoot running but, several years later, injured my knees due to (I think) weakness in my hip muscles. I decided to switch back to fencing for my cardio. This went well until I got a new pair of fencing shoes. Old style fencing shoes were very minimal. Then the shoe manufactures decided we needed the same cushy heels you find on running shoes. My bad PF came some months into a new pair of fencing shoes.

After almost a year of work at the gym and many trips to my doctor, I’m close to beating my bad case of PF. My running will, most likely, be barefoot. If I’m able to return to fencing I’ll follow Daniel Lieberman’s minimal footwear advice:

  • The thickness of the cushioning in the rearfoot and forefoot should be about the same, and not too thick.
  • You should be able to easily twist the shoe along the long axis and bend the shoe at the midfoot.
  • There should not be a stiff arch support that prevents the natural movement of the arch of the foot.

And here’s a thought for an enterprising publisher: how about a running magazine modeled after Lucky Peach? In other words, a running magazine with integrity made up of honest reviews, research-based injury advice and thoughtful essays.

Resources:
An interesting article on Plantar fasciitis (thanks to Kathy Turk for the link)
The Skeletal Biology Lab at Harvard
Barefoot Ken Bob’s website (note his free running clinics in Southern California–I went to one and it was great).

Plantar Fasciitis Update

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First, dear readers, many thanks for all of your suggestions. But my fencing induced case of Plantar fasciitis just won’t go away. I diligently stretched, tried alternative notions, got a cortisone shot and slept every night in night splints. My case was so intractable that I ended up in the hands of a sports doctor who has slapped me into a boot and crutches: one month for one foot and another month for the other in an attempt to avoid surgery. So far it seems to be working.

The downside of this is no building projects or gardening. The upside will be lots of blogging.

Overall I think I’m healthier for having lived an active life. Fencing has occasionally gifted me with a bruised rib, sore knees, and pulled muscles. But each injury is a lesson and, overall, I think I’ve come out stronger.

062 Plantar fasciitis, Vegetable Gardening Disasters and Rain

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On the podcast this week Kelly and I discuss my plantar fasciitis situation, our vegetable gardening disasters and what happens when it rains in Southern California.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to rootsimple@gmail.com. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Minimalist Shoes, 1915

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In light of Erik’s continuing struggle with plantar fasciitis, and my own neverending search for shoes which fit my monkey feet, we found this 1915 handbook on military footwear, The Soldier’s Foot and the Military Shoe, by Edward Lyman Munson, a fascinating read.

Seems that way back in 1915 we knew that arch support created weak arches, and that thick soles impaired foot dynamics.

The principle message of this book is that if you want your soldiers to able to march long distances, and arrive at their destination in any shape to fight, you have to give them flexible boots which do not squash the toes or impede the natural movement of the foot. Simple as that.

So why, exactly 100 years later, are we still debating whether the foot needs lots of external support and cushioning? Why are overbuilt athletic shoes and supportive inserts still favored by mainstream opinion?

Minimal footwear enthusiasts may find the language below eerily familiar.

You can read the whole book at the invaluable archive.org.

(o) The shoe should not support the arch of the foot in the sense of lifting it up or buttressing it from below. This fact is opposed to common belief, but the latter is based on lack of knowledge of the anatomy of the foot and misconception as to its function. Rigid support of this region weakens its intrinsic muscles by favoring their non-use, and thus tends to directly cause the condition of flat-footedness which it is attempted to avoid. Barefoot peoples have no such arch support and flat feet are practically unknown among them. . . . In the new shoe, the purpose is to have the leather accurately follow the outlines of the average soldier’s foot arch, but without compressing the sole muscles to such an extent that their function will be interfered with and their development and strengthening be impaired. Every structure of the foot concerned in marching should be left free to function to the best anatomical and mechanical advantage. For this reason, the new shoe has no metal shank as stiffening under the foot arch.

(p) The sole should be sufficiently thick to prevent injury by inequality in the ground. But if too thick, planter flexion of the foot is lost and dorsi flexion much reduced. The foot is thus reduced to the condition of a solid block, hinging at the ankle and simply furnishing a solid support for the leg. Moreover, with thick soles, the leveraging function of the great toe is interfered with…

(p. 51, The Soldier’s Foot)

The Other Kind of Fencing

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That’s Mrs. Homegrown on the left back in 2005.

It was with great sadness that we got the news of the passing of our fencing coach Amy Fortune in April. Both Kelly and I were lucky to have taken many lessons with Amy. She was one of those teachers that bring unexpected and valuable life lessons far beyond the topic at hand. She was patient, encouraging and always positive. We miss her very much and send our condolences to her husband Geoff, also an amazing fencing coach.

When I walked into my first lesson with Amy, many years ago, she said that if she were to build a fencing robot from scratch it would look like me: tall and gangly. Unfortunately, what Amy did not know is that I lacked even a shred of natural athletic talent. Which is precisely why I’ve become obsessed with this sport. It offers me a chance to work on things I’m terrible at: strategy, mindfulness, flexibility, speed and endurance.

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