timberland shoes uk sale Are expensive running shoes a waste of money
Yet in this extract from his controversial new book, Christopher McDougall claims that injury rates for runners are actually on the rise, that everything we’ve been told about running shoes is wrong and that it might even be better to go barefoot.
By CHRISTOPHER McDOUGALLEvery year, anywhere from 65 to 80 per cent of all runners suffer an injury. No matter who you are, no matter how much you run, your odds of getting hurt are the same
At Stanford University, California, two sales representatives from Nike were watching the athletics team practise. Part of their job was to gather feedback from the company’s sponsored runners about which shoes they preferred.
Unfortunately, it was proving difficult that day as the runners all seemed to prefer. nothing.
‘Didn’t we send you enough shoes?’ they asked head coach Vin Lananna. They had, he was just refusing to use them.
‘I can’t prove this,’ the well respected coach told them.
‘But I believe that when my runners train barefoot they run faster and suffer fewer injuries.’
Nike sponsored the Stanford team as they were the best of the very best. Needless to say, the reps were a little disturbed to hear that Lananna felt the best shoes they had to offer them were not as good as no shoes at all.
When I was told this anecdote it came as no surprise. I’d spent years struggling with a variety of running related injuries, each time trading up to more expensive shoes, which seemed to make no difference. I’d lost count of the amount of money I’d handed over at shops and sports injury clinics eventually ending with advice from my doctor to give it up and ‘buy a bike’.
And I wasn’t on my own. Every year, anywhere from 65 to 80 per cent of all runners suffer an injury. No matter who you are, no matter how much you run, your odds of getting hurt are the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, fast or slow, pudgy or taut as a racehorse, your feet are still in the danger zone.
But why? How come Roger Bannister could charge out of his Oxford lab every day, pound around a hard cinder track in thin leather slippers, not only getting faster but never getting hurt, and set a record before lunch?
Tarahumara runner Arnulfo Quimare runs alongside ultra runner Scott Jurek in Mexico’s Copper Canyons
Then there’s the secretive Tarahumara tribe, the best long distance runners in the world. These are a people who live in basic conditions in Mexico, often in caves without running water, and run with only strips of old tyre or leather thongs strapped to the bottom of their feet. They are virtually barefoot.
Come race day, the Tarahumara don’t train. They don’t stretch or warm up. They just stroll to the starting line, laughing and bantering, and then go for it, ultra running for two full days, sometimes covering over 300 miles, non stop. For the fun of it. One of them recently came first in a prestigious 100 mile race wearing nothing but a toga and sandals. He was 57 years old.
When it comes to preparation, the Tarahumara prefer more of a Mardi Gras approach. In terms of diet, lifestyle and training technique,
they’re a track coach’s nightmare. They drink like New Year’s Eve is a weekly event, tossing back enough corn based beer and homemade tequila brewed from rattlesnake corpses to floor an army.
Unlike their Western counterparts, the Tarahumara don’t replenish their bodies with electrolyte rich sports drinks. They don’t rebuild between workouts with protein bars; in fact, they barely eat any protein at all, living on little more than ground corn spiced up by their favourite delicacy, barbecued mouse.
I’ve watched them climb sheer cliffs with no visible support on nothing more than an hour’s sleep and a stomach full of pinto beans. It’s as if a clerical error entered the stats in the wrong columns. Shouldn’t we, the ones with state of the art running shoes and custom made orthotics, have the zero casualty rate, and the Tarahumara, who run far more, on far rockier terrain, in shoes that barely qualify as shoes, be constantly hospitalised?
The answer, I discovered, will make for unpalatable reading for the $20 billion trainer manufacturing industry. It could also change runners’ lives forever.
Dr Daniel Lieberman, professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, has been studying the growing injury crisis in the developed world for some time and has come to a startling conclusion: ‘A lot of foot and knee injuries currently plaguing us are caused by people running with shoes that actually make our feet weak, cause us to over pronate (ankle rotation) and give us knee problems.
‘Until 1972, when the modern athletic shoe was invented, people ran in very thin soled shoes, had strong feet and had a much lower incidence of knee injuries.’
Lieberman also believes that if modern trainers never existed more people would be running. And if more people ran, fewer would be suffering from heart disease, hypertension, blocked arteries, diabetes, and most other deadly ailments of the Western world.
‘Humans need aerobic exercise in order to stay healthy,’ says Lieberman. ‘If there’s any magic bullet to make human beings healthy, it’s to run.’
The modern running shoe was essentially invented by Nike. The company was founded in the Seventies by Phil Knight, a University of Oregon runner, and Bill Bowerman, the University of Oregon coach.
Before these two men got together, the modern running shoe as we know it didn’t exist. Runners from Jesse Owens through to Roger Bannister all ran with backs straight, knees bent,
feet scratching back under their hips. They had no choice: their only shock absorption came from the compression of their legs and their thick pad of midfoot fat. Thumping down on their heels was not an option.