Fartlek = Swedish for Fast
This spring will mark the tenth anniversary of the publication of Christopher McDougall’s bestselling book Born to Run, widely credited with igniting a huge wave of interest in barefoot and minimalist running, which in turn triggered a surge of research into the link between shoes and running injuries. So where do we stand after a decade? Not as far along as you might think, according to a provocative editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine by University of British Columbia biomechanics researcher Chris Napier and University of Montana physical therapist Richard Willy.
Napier and Willy point out several logical fallacies that have plagued the rancorous shoe debate. One is the “argument from ignorance,” in which evidence that conventional motion-control shoes don’t actually prevent injuries is taken to mean that alternatives like minimalist or maximalist shoes must be better – even though they’re plagued by the same lack of evidence. Another fallacy is the “appeal to nature,” which assumes that shoes that permit a more unconstrained and “natural” foot motion must be better for us.
The dispiriting truth, the authors argue, is that from a scientific perspective we simply don’t know which types of running shoes are best for a given person. As a result, they write, “runners should be instructed to choose a certain type of running shoe over another shoe no more so than a blue shoe over a red shoe.” The alternative, they suggest, is to worry more about how you run rather than what you’re wearing. Learning to avoid problems like overstriding and hard landings through “gait retraining” may be the best way to injury-proof yourself – but that too, they acknowledge, will require lots more research to confirm.