Monday, March 09, 2009

On "Natural' Running Shoes

Someone on the Running Barefoot discussion group ( mentioned an article on the Popular Science website about some newly designed running shoes that were supposed to be much more natural. (See it here: I watched the video and read the report. Then I just HAD to leave my comment about what I saw. This is what I said:

I look at these shoes from the perspective of a true barefoot runner. I have been running exclusively barefoot for almost five years. So I have some questions about this 'natural' shoe.

Why does the toe-box curl upwards? Natural feet rest flat on the ground. What does the upward curl do to the natural movements of the foot? I can only believe forcing the toes of the foot up like that will constrict their natural movements, and will create an artificial stress in the arch of the foot.

Why do those shoes have such a large, built-up heel on them? Natural feet have the heel resting at the same level as the toes and the mid-foot. The video claims there is no need to heel-strike with these shoes -- so why have the big balloon on each heel? Having the heel built-up like that almost guarantees that it will get in the way, almost forcing a heel strike.

What kind of arch support do these shoes have in them? The arch of the foot is designed to flex, contract and expand with each step. If there is an "arch support" in the shoe, then it will interfere with this natural movement and weaken the foot's arch action and strength. Since I have been running barefoot, my arches have become more pronounced because I am actually using them when I run.

I am fascinated by the shock absorption claimed by the little pockets in the forefoot. How much shock can they really absorb? When I run barefoot, I have the benefit of my natural shock-absorbing arch in my foot, my Achilles tendon and calf muscles, plus I have the benefit of up to many inches of bending in my knees if necessary. From my perspective, that little bit of shock absorption contained in about 1/2 inch of space or material just doesn't compare. Proper running technique uses all of the body's natural shock absorbers, making the 1/2 inch of artificial absorption in the shoe unnecessary.

I would be much more interested in a shoe that had no heel whatsoever, and a flat, flexible sole. If they could whack off that bulbous heel, and flatten out that toe box, I might be interested in giving the modified shoe a test run. But - would I BUY it? I run naturally for free - it costs me absolutely nothing to prepare my feet for running. Those (modified) shoes had better offer me something really impressive to make me want to fork out $70-80-90 or more for them.

Vancouver, WA


Anonymous said...

You're right, those shoes are a crock. However I would be interested to know what you think of Vibram Five Fingers and other unpadded heel-less soft shoes. I run in either Five Fingers or aquasocks because people where I live (NYC) freak out completely if they see someone who is not homeless with no shoes on.


Vancouver Barefoot said...

I also own a pair of Vibram Fivefingers. They are unique - almost more unique than plain old bare feet! I find that they are helpful for getting through really rough stuff. However, they are not quick or easy to put on / take off.

I have also run with aquasocks. They are easier to get in and out of, and do a good enough job of protecting against rough stuff. They are also cheaper. I recommend them over Vibrams.

I have also used cheap old flip-flops to run in when my feet were saying "Enough!" They work just fine too, and are the easiest to put on / take off, plus the price is easy.

I tried some hand-made Huarache sandals but don't like them much. They are very floppy in the sole and the front portion tended to fold under, plus the ties tended to loosen and slip off my heel. Because they were so floppy, they also made a lot of 'clacking' noise with each step.
- Ryan

Alex said...

You're right, considering that they cost like $10 aquasocks are a pretty good choice. And it's funny that you didn't like huaraches - I bought a kit but never made them! I am also thinking about making very simple Indian-style mocassins out of deerskin.

Anonymous said...

It is useful to try everything in practice anyway and I like that here it's always possible to find something new. :)