Hear Me Out: Is barefoot-running or running shoes better?

PHOENIX - Each Sunday, ABC15.com debuts an Arizona issue - along with two opposing sides on the topic.

Don't worry, you always have the opportunity to make comments at the bottom of the page. Yeah, your opinion matters, too.

This weekend, we're taking a look at the benefits of barefoot running versus wearing running shoes.

Jon Ford is a barefoot runner who believes the natural structure of our feet work well enough for running, and can be compromised by wearing shoes.

Cristin VanDreil of Sole Sports says shoes protect us in numerous ways, and their cushioning technologies help decrease impact placed on our bones and connective tissue.

Click "Next" to read the first of two positions, by Jon Ford


We're so used to the world today, as it is. We think it's normal to wear shoes and abnormal to go barefoot. That's really preposterous if you think about it. As an evolutionary biologist I can tell you: shoes are the fad, and barefoot running is the natural, normal state of running." - Dr. Daniel Lieberman, Harvard University

I'm a barefoot runner. People have laughed at me, taunted me, yelled at me, cautioned me, questioned me, and generally just shaken their heads at me (particularly those who run faster than I do). In response, I do what any runner would, and what every barefoot runner must: take it all in stride.

At first I was incensed by myopic statements from podiatrists, a national shoe retailer and a major shoe manufacturer. Back then, I took solace in an online minimalist running group that shared my anger while discussing mutual experiences. But then two funny things happened: (1) major retailers and shoe makers joined everyone else on a quest to think about new footwear possibilities, and (2) our online minimalist group greatly expanded its thinking to subjects like running form, then anatomy, then diet, and then lifestyle. We began seeing the world with new eyes. More to the point, we began walking the world with new soles (and souls).

The best way to enjoy running is to treat it as a journey - through your world, your mind, your soul and this life. If wearing shoes is the best way for you to take that journey, so be it. But I'd wager a significant amount of money that the fastest way to learn a great deal more is by opening up to the bucketful of nerve-endings, exquisite design, and nearly perfect structure found in your feet - a stroke of brilliance that gets compromised (or at least masked) when you wear shoes.

The physical evidence has been mounting ever since we started asking new questions about stride, impact forces, and the efficacy of different shoe types. Google "barefoot running," and a variety of sources will assault you. Use them to make your own judgment.

Better yet, consult local running experts. Sole Sports was among the very first to stock minimalist shoes, and it is many runners' preferred source for good reason. Their stores are staffed by amazing runners - faster than me - who care about your journey because they are dedicated travelers themselves. You can trust them to earnestly help you.

The best thing to come out of the barefoot running controversy? We're all talking about running, not just randomly picking shoes, tromping around, getting hurt and giving up. Today there are far more complementary (and sometimes conflicting) running techniques being taught than ever before, and multiple manufacturers offer a greatly expanded array of footwear options.

Bottom line, certain aspects of great running are relatively immutable while others will forever be relatively personal. The great thing about the barefoot running debate is that now we all have more options for our journey.

Jon Ford, Barefoot Runner

Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.

Click "next page" to read the second position, " Shoes, Are They All They Are Cracked Up To Be?"

Shoes, Are They All They Are Cracked Up To Be?

Some say to put them on, others say to take them off. What is a runner to do when every other person has a different "best recommendation". Some of the biggest claims are "wear less of a shoe and prevent injuries". None of us want to be injured but do the answers really lie in choosing a more minimal shoe?

Shoes protect us in numerous ways. Their cushioning technologies help decrease impact placed on our bones and connective tissue, the outsoles protect us from stepping on something that could penetrate our foot, and the upper structure keeps our foot held in protection. Protection is good. When we run it has been shown that we impact at three times our body weight. Without gradual and progressive training, our connective tissue and bones can not adjust. As a result we get injured.

So what does a standard training shoe give a runner that a "minimal" shoe does not. It gives protection. Standard training shoes vary from a 8mm drop to a 12mm drop (difference between heel and forefoot height). Standard running shoes come with many different amounts of stability that fit a variety of foot shapes. Your minimal shoe choices have less stability due to their purpose in helping the runner adopt a more natural stride; leaning slightly from the ankle, increased cadence around 180 bpm, and landing and leaving with a midfoot striking pattern.

When heel striking, impact happens in front of your center of gravity, creating a deceleration of impact. This in turn can create risk for injuries. So while a traditional shoe can provide protection, a more minimal shoe with a 0-4 mm drop can help create better running mechanics. However, I tell everyone that this type of shoe should be a tool in your running arsonal and used with caution. We are not conditioned to run this way due to being in traditional shoes most of our lives. We are not used to the drop of the heel and the extra stretch placed on the achilles and calf. I recommend using the shoe to walk around for the first week of use. During the second week go for a short five minute easy run. If no pain after use; continue using the shoe every other day and increasing the time 3-5 minutes on each use. It is much better to play it safe than end up sitting at home injured.

In addition to shoe choice, it is important to concentrate on better running mechanics. Staying relaxed and think of the following:

  • Look ahead
  • Land softly with your midfoot
  • Keep roughly a 90 degree bend in elbows letting arms swing forward and backward approximately 23 degrees
  • Relax your shoulders and keep hands loose
  • Limit vertical oscillation (vertical bounce) which wastes energy
  • Run at approximately 180-185 strides/minute

Sole Sports carries a large inventory of both traditional and minimal shoe choices. Each customer is watched on the treadmill to help determine their unique striking pattern which helps in determining the proper shoe choice. Past injuries, foot structure, training volume all help in determining what is best for each individual customer.

Cristin VanDreil, Sole Sports

Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.

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