On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Also? You look really weird.

I've decided to take a stand on barefoot running.

I think barefoot runners are largely self-righteous douchebags.  Not all of them by any means, but many of them.  I'm basing that mostly on my understanding of the Runner's World web forum on barefoot running - clearly a representative sample.  Also?  The Springsteen song (Born to Run) gets on my nerves, and it reminds me of barefoot runners because of the book of the same name and all.

That's my stand on barefoot runners.  What's my stance on barefoot running itself?

Now, for the record, I'm sort of the Brian Fellow of running physiology.  In other words, I have no educated basis at all for what I'm about to say.  Remember: I didn't even learn how to stretch until a few months ago.

I read Born to Run and I bought it, hook line and sinker.  I was moved.  I imagined myself as a persistence hunter, running and running and running.  I bored my friends with TOTALLY AWESOME facts about how our lungs don't get compressed as we run, you see, so we can breathe independently of our footstrike and run forever if we need to.  I own Vibrams, Nike Frees, MBTs, Vivo Barefoot, Kigos.  I get the barefoot thing and I think there's something to it.

I also believe that it is possible to be injured by too much shoe.  Getting fitted for running shoes isn't rocket science, but there is something to it.  I tried to push my beloved Asics on to a running friend years ago, and she started getting cramps in her side - above the waist - every time she wore them.  Something was pulling on something and it gave her an abdominal muscle cramp.  So shoe fit isn't rocket science - worse, it's magic.

Personally, I'm enough of a conspiracy theorist to even see Nike as basically a big drug company, luring us in with more and more expensive shoes and convincing us we need the best there is.  "Oh, you like that offering?  We have this other shoe, over here... even softer... yet more stable... and in better colors... only $20 more...  Just follow me into this dark, loud store over here under the 'Niketown' sign..."

Now.  That said.  We're starting to see an anti-barefoot backlash.  People are getting injured from doing too much too soon.  People are getting injured from not paying attention and switching from one form to the other - barefoot shoes today, cushioned tomorrow, etc.  Your form is different from barefoot to shod. Go back and forth and you're confusing yourself.

Running is the stuff of repetition.  It's inherently monotonous.  We learn muscle memory through running, again and again.  One foot in front of the other until it becomes rote.

I probably have at least a dozen pictures of me at DQ.
Also?  I might have millions of years of evolution suggesting that I should be running barefoot, but I have hundred of years of devolution suggesting that I should sit my butt down in a nice cushy chair and eat Dairy Queen.  A million years ago, a runner wouldn't have carried around the extra pounds I have going on.  Or the lethargy.  Or the sedentary desk job.  Or the red meat whenever I want it which is frankly too often.  A million years ago, a runner wouldn't have gotten massively peeved if she couldn't get a seat on the subway for TWO WHOLE stops of her commute - that's like 6 minutes of standing!

What's next in the back-to-nature movement?  I really hope it's the squat toilet.  I cannot tell you how much I would love to see the Turkish Toilet installed throughout America.


  1. You're right. Barefoot purists CAN be douchey, as can all flavors of purist.

    True story: there was a guy who used to wear his Vibrams around my office all the time. People thought he was wearing socks. He was a freak who told everyone all the time why he was wearing them, which would generally be answered by, "but you're not running right now...." He's gone to law school now. Douche.

  2. I have met mostly douchey people, and one nice one. Hrm.

    But what I do find hilarious is that when you mentioned Brian Fellow, i thought "I don't remember him ever talking about runners. Just 'that bird is a liar'!"


    ha ha ha!

  3. On the barefoot running. I trained 50% of the training runs on Newtons and 50% of the training runs on Asics GT-2150's for this year's Swiss Alpine Marathon. You know, GT-2150's, the closest thing to wooden shoes out there. I did not get any running related injuries in that training cycle. For this year's NYCM training cycle I decided to stick with just the Asics because of minor shin splints issues. I got several injuries in that training cycle, AND managed to end the marathon with something I'd like to call 'the bitchy calf strain'. Even putting on the GT-2150's and slowly walking around in them hurts at this point in recovery. Putting on and slow jogging in my Inov-8 trail running shoes (shoes that are part of the 'barefoot' running hype) doesn't hurt. At all. For the next marathon training cycle I'll alternate between the 'wooden shoes' and the barefoot running shoes again. Apparently it works for me...But I'm a freak, so feel free not to pay attention. ;)

    @Ms.Duffy: not just douchey people go to law school. Some cool kids do get in. ;)

  4. Tracy, I am so disappointed in you. The Turkish toilet is NOT ok. Talk about eroding our American culture. If I want to sit on a toilet instead of trying to not to slip into some scuzzy toilet hole, I don't want to be lectured about how the natural way is to squat on the ground. It's called civilization. The Third World can keep the Turkish toilet.

  5. Tracy please write a book so i can read more of your hilariousity in one sitting! i heart you :)

  6. My stance on barefoot running/runners is purely aesthetic: I think it/they look/s like dumbasses. The shoes piss me off. They just do. I don't need any other reason. Scarlett Johansson pisses me off, too, which is why I don't see any movies in which she acts. If she wore the finger-shoes, my head might explode.

    Um. Right. There is a lot that is different between what we do now and what we did when we were Mexican tribespeople. When I was an ancient Mexican, my dental hygiene was less assiduous and I didn't read as many books. Now I floss more often and wear $100 running shoes. Maybe my stride is different, but I have fewer cavities and puncture wounds.

    Tracy, I'm sorry for this comment. But it's all I've got.

  7. Hear, hear to this post. Unfortunately, every single Vibram FiveFingers wearer I've met in real life has an annoying evangelical approach to telling me about how great their shoes are. I'm sure there are a few non-dbaggy ones out there... gotta be... right?

    "Shoe fitting isn't rocket science - worse - it's magic." Thanks for multiple laughs!

  8. I'm SO with you on this. I think there is something to some aspects of barefoot running, but I can't stand talking to the Barefoot Cult people about it, because, woah, dude, back down just a wee bit. Full barefoot may not be for everyone, just like full giant stability shoes may not be for everyone.

    I also think that the anti-running backlash is wonderfully symmetrical and ironic. People were getting injured from overtraining in too much shoe, so they tossed their shoes out the window. Now they're getting injured from overtraining in not enough shoe. As much as I wouldn't wish injuries on anyone... it's sort of entertaining. Give it 5 years and the trend will be robotic shoes that stimulate each muscle in your foot individually as you run to give you the perfect form since CLEARLY our lowly brains can't handle it, since everyone's getting injured and whatnot.

  9. Ha. I love this post.

    I was talking about this to a friend, and I told her "I doubt the shoe companies are TRYING to get us injured." We do that on our own, right?

    I can see sides to both minimalist shoes and supportive shoes, but hey, until the Vibrams are cheap (hello, why aren't they cheaper than regular running shoes) I am not trying them :)

    And yeah, a lot of the people I know who wear them seem douchey (through their blogs).

  10. Wow, thank you guys.

    I debated whether or not to post this - I actually wrote it probably in August - because I didn't want to offend any barefoot runners. Then, for some reason (ahem, because I had nothing else to say right now) last night I said "fuck it" and planned it for this morning. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    And no harm meant to any barefoot runners. The whole point of this is: do what works for you, not just what's trendy.