Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Spikeless Cross Country Flats or WWPW?

I’m thinking about getting a different type of running shoe. It might be a crazy idea or it might be a bit of sneaky genius. I got the idea from thinking about the book, Born to Run by McDougall. I haven’t actually read it yet because it’s a very hot item at the library right now but the idea it puts forth (probably) is that humans have run long distances for a long time and are actually designed (creatively or evolutionarily) to do so. The problem is that we’ve forgotten how to run properly and running shoes (companies?) are forcing bad habits upon us.

Running shoes have really high cushy heels designed to absorb the impact of heel strikes. While the idea of cushioning seems pretty okay, I think it’s the high heel which causes problems. We never really get a chance to let our feet do the running. We’re always cramped into a shoe contraption.

The book looks at the Tarahumara people of Mexico that have been running long distances barefoot as a natural part of their culture for many generations with few running related injuries. Many people have started to follow their lead and try barefoot running or running with specially designed barefoot-shoes like the “Five Fingers” by Vibram which is basically a fancy (expensive) rubber sock with individual toe spaces.

Running shoeless, or nearly so, allows you to lengthen your calf and hamstring and back muscles (probably) with every stride. You land on the ball of your foot our almost flatfooted depending on your speed and the terrain. Your heel is lowered to the ground slowly by your leg muscles to reduce impact shock.

And your heel is lowered further. Probably close to an inch lower than would be possible with standard running shoes. So you can’t really practice this form technique while using your old shoes.

Since it’s cross country season and all, I’ve been seeing a lot of the local school teams out on their training runs. Most of them are wearing regular running shoes. It’s a hard habit to break (same old story.) But when you look at all the elite runners from the track or cross country none of them are wearing standard running shoes. They wear shoes that have low heels. This gives their feet some amount of protection from ground abrasion and a minimal amount of shock absorption, but again, maybe most importantly, it lowers their heel. (What Would Pre Wear? WWPW)

It reminds me of the call to arms of the telemark skier, “Free your Heel!”

So, I’m thinking it would be an interesting experiment to get some of these cross country shoes and use them as a transition to occasional barefoot running while still maintaining a bit of foot protection and not looking like a fool running around barefoot.

I should probably just use them on the trails for a while until I can redevelop my natural running stride.

Plus, racing shoes just look really cool… And if Everyday Joes can dork around in running shoes all over the place then I (as a fairly non-poser runner, right?) should be able to wear sweet looking racing runners.

Injury will be the judge…


Alaskan Assassin said...

Great topic. When it comes to running shoes less is best.

I have been wearing the Nike Frees 5.0 on most of my runs now and love them. They are pretty minimalistic.

Also New Balance just came out with the MT100 trail shoes. They are 6 ounces and sweet. A lot of the ultra runners are starting to wear those in races.

I will also be running the PCTR Santa Monica Mts 50k in November. This is a great race for a first ultra if you are interested.

Jonah said...

Thanks Evan. Those Nikes look super minimal and spacey and awesome – definitely WPWW. I’ll have to try those, too. I just ordered a pair of Adidas XCS spikeless… a whopping 7.2 ounces, but hey, they look cool, and that’s what counts…

As for Santa Monica, I’m thinking maybe I’ll head back there for February again. If I have a very lucky fall/winter running session I’ll consider the 50k, otherwise I’ll hope to improve upon my 30k.