It’s not just about the shoe to stay healthy on the run

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - MARK SUT­CLIFFE

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.”

Jean Le­vac/Postmedia News

Run­ning ex­perts like Ryan Grant of SoleFit say in­ter­est in min­i­mal­ist footwear has lev­elled off.

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