Bar­ing your sole in pub­lic is catch­ing on

The ‘run­ning with­out shoes’ trend is gain­ing speed, says KATE KEL­LAND

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

LON­DON: De­spite the cold and many other po­ten­tial haz­ards, naked from the an­kle down is the way Anna Toombs likes it, and she gets plenty of cat­calls in the street as a re­sult. The 35-year-old co-founder of the per­sonal train­ing com­pany Bare­foot Run­ning UK says she’s lost count of the times peo­ple yell “where are your shoes?” as she and part­ner David Robin­son ne­go­ti­ate Lon­don’s parks and pave­ments to in­dulge their pas­sion and train their clients.

“Peo­ple give you a lot of weird looks,” says Robin­son.

They are also get­ting a lot of in­quiries.

A surge of in­ter­est in “nat­u­ral”, or bare­foot, train­ing has seen run­ners around the world kick off their arch­sup­port­ing, mo­tion-con­trol­ling, heel­cush­ion­ing shoes and try to feel the ground be­neath their feet.

Sci­en­tists – from sports physi­cians to po­di­a­trists to evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­o­gists – are jump­ing in too.

At a re­cent sports sci­ence con­fer­ence in Lon­don, hundreds of par­tic­i­pants, many of them shod but a few bare­footed, flocked to a two-hour long dis­cus­sion about the mer­its or other­wise of run­ning with­out shoes.

“It’s a re­ally po­larised de­bate – there are what you might call the bare­foot evan­gel­i­cals on one side and the ag­gres­sive anti-bare­foots on the other,” says Ross Tucker, an ex­pert in ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Cape Town and a mid­dle- and longdis­tance run­ning coach.

The bare­foot trend has its roots in the book Born to Run, by Christo­pher Mc­dougall. In it, he tells of time spent with Mex­ico’s Tarahu­mara tribe who can run huge dis­tances bare­foot, of­ten very fast, ap­par­ently with­out suf­fer­ing the in­juries that plague many keen run­ners in the de­vel­oped world.

The de­bate cen­tres on whether run­ning in shoes with cush­ioned heels and sup­port­ive struc­tures changes the way peo­ple move so dra­mat­i­cally that it’s more likely to cause in­juries.

Pro­po­nents of bare­foot run­ning say the nat­u­ral way is more likely to prompt a run­ner to land on the padded and springy part of the foot, to­wards the front, rather than strike the ground with the heel as many shod run­ners do.

In a study pub­lished in the sci­en­tific jour­nal Na­ture last year, Daniel Lieber­man, an evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Har­vard Univer­sity, sought to find out how our an­ces­tors, who ran and hunted for mil­lions of years in bare feet or sim­ple moc­casins, coped with the im­pact of the foot hit­ting the ground.

Lieber­man and col­leagues from Bri­tain and Kenya stud­ied run­ners who had al­ways run bare­foot, those who had al­ways worn shoes and run­ners who had aban­doned shoes.

They found that bare­foot en­durance run­ners of­ten land on the fore-foot be­fore bring­ing down the heel, while shod run­ners mostly rear­foot strike, prompted by the raised and cush­ioned heels of modern run­ning shoes.

In a se­ries of analy­ses, they found that even on hard sur­faces, bare­foot run­ners who fore-foot strike gen­er­ate smaller “col­li­sion forces” – less im­pact – than rear-foot strik­ers in shoes.

Bare­foot run­ners also had a springier step and used their calf and foot mus­cles more ef­fi­ciently.

Lieber­man, who spoke at the con­fer­ence af­ter an early-morn­ing bare­foot run along the banks of Lon­don’s Thames, is keen to stress that the sci­en­tific ev­i­dence on whether bare­foot run­ning is bet­ter in terms of in­juries is still very un­clear.

“A lot of peo­ple are ar­gu­ing on the ba­sis of pas­sion, anec­dote, emo­tion or fi­nan­cial gain – but what’s quite true is there are no good data say­ing whether it’s bet­ter for you or worse for you,” he said.

Hav­ing said that, he has al­ready voted with his feet.

As has fel­low bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor Daniel How­ell, who teaches hu­man anatomy and phys­i­ol­ogy at Lib­erty Univer­sity in the US.

How­ell has spent al­most all of the past six years in bare feet, he’s run thou­sands of kilo­me­tres in all weath­ers and across many ter­rains with­out footwear.

”Bare­foot is the nat­u­ral con­di­tion. It’s the most nat­u­ral way to be,” he told the con­fer­ence.

While it’s true that al­most all modern ath­letes use run­ning shoes in in­ter­na­tional sport­ing events, South Africa’s Zola Budd was a trail­blazer for the bare­foot cause.

In 1984, she set a track world record when she ran 5 000m in 15 min­utes and 1.83 sec­onds.

Si­mon Bar­told, a sports po­di­a­trist and in­ter­na­tional re­search con­sul­tant for the sports brand Asics, says most ath­letes should wear shoes, be­cause they do “of­fer some real pro­tec­tion and some real per­for­mance ad­van­tages over bare­foot”.

Nifty re­brand­ing – “nat­u­ral or “min­i­mal­ist” run­ning – has, how­ever, opened up a po­ten­tial new mar­ket in “bare­foot run­ning shoes”.

For How­ell, even min­i­mal­ist shoes are a step too far.

“For most peo­ple, un­der most cir­cum­stances, most of the time, bare­foot is the health­i­est and most nat­u­ral way to be.” – Reuters

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