You would think wed all get tired of the barefootin-minimalism debate, and turn to scratching our heads and nether regions over other eternal running questions. Like, for example: stretching or no, the 10 percent rule (two recent topics in The New York Times), or endurance vs. speed workouts.
But, no, the foot and footwear questions continue to hold us. Thats undoubtedly because, in our elegantly simple sport, theres nothing more important than how the feet and legs function, what shoes work best, and how we can stay injury free.
One of my training partners just developed a VSF: Vibram stress fracture. And anecdotal reports are now claiming an epidemic of injuries due to barefoot and minimalist running. This was inevitable, of course. A pendulum set in violent motion by an event like Christopher McDougalls Born to Run will always swing back past the midpoint to the other side.
I dont put much faith in any of these anecdotal injury reports, many from podiatrists and physical therapists who say business is booming. For the same reason, I dont believe all the barefootin saved my life stories. Anecdotes make for great story-telling but bad science. I suspect what weve got here is a perfectly normal and boring bell curve. This allows for miraculous cures and happy runners on both extremes of the curveI have one friend who has been able to return to running after years of knee injury thanks to the super-thick Hoka shoes, (pictured above)but also predicts that most of us will be most happy (and healthy) in the middle of the bell.
Next week in Brussels at the 2011 meeting of the International Society of Biomechanics, a University of Oregon team will report that their lab testing doesnt support the notion that forefoot striking lessens the instantaneous load rate vs. rearfoot running. This theorythat running on your forefeet or midfoot reduces the hammer-like impact of each striderepresents the foundational physics of barefootin and minimalist running.
The Oregon team, which includes legendary runners orthopedist Stan James, measured the strike pattern and vertical instantaneous load rate (VILR) of 11 runners, who produced 22 foot strikes when you count both feet. The runners were tested both while wearing shoes and while running barefoot. Measurements were taken for foot strike and VILR. In only 4 of 22 foot strikes, both shod and barefoot, did the researchers find that foot strike correlated significantly with VILR.
Conclusion: Based on this small sample, it appears foot strike pattern does not predict VILR under shod or barefoot conditions, and changes in VILR when one switches from shod to barefoot, or from rear foot striking to fore foot striking, are highly variable between individuals. Thus, generalizations regarding the benefits of one foot strike pattern compared to another should be interpreted with caution.
Im sure this abstract isnt going to end the discussion. I have no doubt biomechanists with a different perspective will find much to dissect and debate with the Oregon team. Thats what Ph.D.s do for fun, after all.
Im also sure this wont be my last post on barefootin, minimalism, and shoe construction, even though Im growing weary of the topic. Nonetheless, it IS important to runners, and does deserve a full airing of all views.
But I hope most of us can agree right now, and moving forward, with one simple point: Lets be careful about generalizations.