It’s not just about the shoe to stay healthy on the run
When Christopher MacDougall travelled deep into Mexico’s Copper Canyon to meet the reclusive Tarahumara tribe, little did he know it would lead to a revolution in running and a multibilliondollar consumer trend.
MacDougall observed tribe members running 100 kilometres at a time, wearing nothing more than thin sandals. He wondered why they rarely suffered injuries, yet he and so many others who wore cushioned running shoes were frequently getting hurt.
In his 2009 book Born to Run, MacDougall concluded that mod- ern running shoes offered too much protection, causing runners to abandon natural human running technique and instead land jarringly on their heels because of all the extra cushioning.
Born to Run became a bestseller and helped spark an exponential increase in natural running products. According to one report, sales of minimalist footwear, providing only basic foot protection and none of the cushioning of the typical running shoe, went from $450,000 in 2006 to almost $2 billion in 2013.
More recently, however, the trend has abated. Sales of minimalist products have declined this year, according to one report by as much as 24 per cent.
Minimalist products haven’t disappeared; in fact, there are more of them than ever, including newer middle-ground shoes that are lighter and more minimal without removing all of the cushioning of the modern shoes. But experts like Ryan Grant of SoleFit in Ottawa say interest has levelled off mostly because runners now realize it’s not about the shoe.
“It has very little to do with shoes,” says Grant. “Shoes are a part of it, but it’s more about using all of your body to run in a way that’s as healthy as possible.”
It turns out the issue wasn’t that we were wearing different footwear from the tribes of Mexico or the children of Kenya, but that we were leading a much different lifestyle. Many recreational runners spend all day sitting in chairs, leading to dramatically reduced flexibility in the hips. And we wear cushioned shoes all day long, not just when we are running. That limits the strength in our feet.
The important thing, says Grant, is not whether you are running properly, by some one-size-fits-all definition, but whether you are running.
“Our number-one goal should always be, we want to keep a runner running,” he says. “If it’s working, you don’t necessarily have to change it, especially not quickly.”
Running experts like Ryan Grant of SoleFit say interest in minimalist footwear has levelled off.