On Shoes and Walking

ShoeI am a runner. I’ve run 4 marathons. I haven’t been running the last 2 years due to an inflamed Ilio-tibial band. And in that time, I’ve been consciously seeking out information about running form and shoes. You see, I have a low arch, which made it extremely painful for me to run any distance above a mile. This was until 8 years ago. Then I got foot inserts (orthotics), and as soon as I’d broken into the orthotics, I was able to run 7 miles. So, I’m well aware that the right foot accessories can make an immense difference. So it is that an article I read in the New York Magazine caught my attention.

The article in question is titled “You Walk Wrong: How we are wrecking our feet with every step we take“. Go read it, it’s highly recommended. But if you are too lazy, I’ll summarize the key points here. Needless to say, the message registered deep with me. I was enlivened to learn of so many commercial alternatives to heavily padded shoes. I recently bought the Huarache Sandals kit for running, which aren’t really shoes.  But the shoes of interest are ready made, stylish looking shoes. Granted some are expensive, but there are some affordable ones as well. Given how much I value being able to run, buying such a shoe is a minor investment. Anyway, here is what I took from the article.

…prior to the invention of shoes, people had healthier feet.

Researchers in South Africa compared the feet of 180 Zulu, Sotho and European individuals against one another. They found the Zulu had the healthiest feet – they walk barefoot the most – and the Europeans had the least healthy feet. Why is this so? Because shoes fundamentally change the way our feet work. We have reversed 4 million years of evolution that has resulted in the human foot and human gait (we are the only mammals who walk erect!) with only a few thousands years of shoe-wearing. The message is – Get Rid Of Your Shoes. But that’s not so easy, is it?

…in fact wearing shoes simply creates the need for wearing shoes.

Wearing high heels shortens your tendons, and as a result, it’s only comfortable to wear heels. Going back, for example, to flip flops in summer often causes painful tingling. Runners who wear cushioned shoes have a higher rate of injury – 31.9 injuries per 1000 km versus 14.3 injuries for people running in hard-soled shoes. Walking barefoot, the impact on your kness is 12 percent less than walking in padded shoes!

The sole of your foot has 200,000 nerve endings that help sense your ‘footing’ and provide you balance and good gait. When you wear a lot of padding, your foot needs to land harder to sense what surface you are on to figure out the balance (and even then, it’s not completely accurate). So, you end up pounding harder and injuring your legs. This has also been shown with gymnasts who land harder when practicing on soft mats. Instead, if we use our natural systems more frequently, we will reduce wear-and-tear on our skeletal system.

Although truly walking or running barefoot may not be appealing to most people, there is a middle path. You can wear shoes that give you the protection of a shoe but the feel of barefoot walking or running. I was already familiar with Vibram Five Fingers and Huarache Sandals. But I learnt about many a new shoes that have soles of between 1.5 and 3.5mm thickness. Some are available through Amazon, and many others through a website dedicated to barefoot walking and running shoes – The Barefoot Shoe Store.

After some research, I’ve decided to start my foray into barefoot-like shoes with the Kigo Edge available for $70. It is not as expensive as the VivoBarefoot Evo ($160), but it appears that the sole is less protective (Vivo soles are puncture-proof). I will also be running mostly in my Huaraches. So, between the Huarache and Kigo, I’ll be able to experiment quite extensively with a barefoot-like lifestyle. I will blog my experiences in a few months as I learn more.

Huarache Sandals
Huarache Sandals
Useful Links

Society for Barefoot Living – http://barefooters.org

The Breathing Project’s Amy Matthews (Movement Therapy) – http://www.breathingproject.org/amy.shtml

Vibram Five Fingers (at Campmor.com) – http://www.campmor.com/vibram-fivefingers-mens-bikila-running-shoe.shtml

Huarache Sandals – http://www.lunasandals.com/

The Barefoot Shoe Store – http://www.thebarefootshoestore.com/

Vivo (Terra Plana) Shoes on Amazon

Kigo Edge shoe – http://www.thebarefootshoestore.com/products/kigo-edge-unisex

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