All Barefoot Running Studies Are Bunk

So there’s a study going around that I’m not going to even link to that has all the shoe-wearers in my life rubbing their orthotics in my face. OK, not really. The only person to bring it up to me was Viper in an effort to get my dander up. It’s a hobby of his. Some people are pretty when they’re angry. Others, ugly. I’m amusing.

As a general practice, here’s a good way to think critically about the methodology of any study about anything: imagine the conclusion were the opposite. I’m pretty sure if the study in question showed barefooters to be more efficient, most of our ilk would say “see? More evidence I’m right.” The shoe fetishists would snort, pointing out the many obvious flaws in the study. Since it’s the other way around, the gloating smug hat and the sour grapes hat are switched.

That’s all beside the point I’d like to make, however. All barefoot running studies are bunk because
1. We don’t know the extent of the adaptations and compromises our feet have made to accommodate the shoe environment
2. We don’t know if those adaptations and compromises need to be reversed in order to run barefoot
3. If we do need to reverse these adaptations and compromises, we don’t know which adaptations and compromises to reverse, how long it takes to reverse them, or if it’s even possible to reverse them at all.

When studying a barefoot runner’s foot, you’re not just looking at a foot without a shoe on it. You’re looking at a foot with a history, one that probably involves a lot of shoes. Not just recent history, either, but a foot that likely spent it’s formative years inside footwear. How would this foot be different if it was bare for it’s entire existence? All barefoot running studies seem to assume there would be no difference at all.

Let’s take two barefooting beginners, one grew up taking karate classes, all barefoot in a dojo, the other grew up dancing in cowboy boots on a never-ending tour of Oklahoma!. Who is going to be more efficient? Should they be the same, just because their shoes are off? If you were to study their gait and form and efficiency, do you think their different histories would matter? If you do, how would you go about accommodating for those differences? How many other aspects of their lives affect their barefootery, one way or another?

There’s too much chaos. Sure, you’ll find plenty of correlations here and there, just enough to confirm anything you’d like the data to say.

Here’s an idea. Get 1000 dogs, put shoes on them. They keep their shoes on for most of the day every day of their lives. They play in shoes, they walk in shoes, they run in shoes. Their paws grow into the shape of their shoes. After a few years, let 500 of those dogs go bare-paw for an hour each day (then it’s back to shoe time). Once these newly bare-paw dogs adjust to the weirdness of having their paws exposed, test the running efficiency of all of the dogs on a treadmill twice. Once in shoes, once bare-pawed.

What’s that? You want to add dogs that have never worn shoes to the study? What kind of crazy hippie cult let their dogs run around without shoes? What if they step in poop?

Anyway, what’s sadder than the idea of 1000 dogs spending most of their lives in shoes? Except for, maybe, an entire species who do so because they think they need to, and cling to sensationalist media to justify their fears.

Judgement Days

So there’s going to be a large gathering of barefooters, and I’ll be there wearing a Barefoot B-List shirt (nice one, Maple Grove Barefoot Guy). I’ve run with very few fellow followers of the literal foot path, and I’m trying to decide if I’m nervous to put my wares on display for such an audience, so to speak. I feel confident that I run well, but that information is derived mainly from self observation. Not many barefooterati around here to cast a critical eye. I could come back from NY in a state of shock, wondering how I managed to get it all so wrong. In such an event, I will be sending my therapy bills to Merrell, who ever so kindly and sadistically invited me on this trip in the first place.

Of course, in the far more likely event I and we all have a splendid time, I will send Merrell a thank you card or something.

Angie B’s latest post adds fuel to my running form paranoia fire. But seriously, it’s a good read about the value of an external eye. And by that, I mean someone else with a grasp of the concept of fluidity and such watching you run, not some biological enhancement oddity. It’s a bummer she won’t be in NY. She’s one of my favorite members of the club.

On a similar note, laaa!

Sorry. On a similar note, rumor has it there’s a video of me out there running very quickly (for me) on a treadmill. I am braced for judgement. I heard there might be thudding, so of course I have about four totally reasonable and acceptable excuses at the ready if that does indeed turn out to be the case. Which it might not. You know how rumors are.

Feet In Spaaaaaace! and an unexpected mile

Team Running-Down brought this to my attention. It’s another one of those “Barefoot running: is it safe?” discussions with people who are all educated and stuff. “I’m sure you’re probably tired of these things by now,” said ac, “but I’m kind of curious what kind of freaks go to these things. No offense.” None taken, as the word “freak” is not a pejorative in my vocabulary.

It’s at the Morehead Planetarium Cafe in Chapel Hill. There will be free appetizers. So free food, space stuff, and barefoot bloviation? I’m in. Who wants to bet against the probability of me monopolizing the conversation with my mouth full of food? I will gladly take your dinero.

Last Saturday evening I had the pleasure of helping out with the Fire On The Track 5k organized by Jen from Off’n Running. I was a lap counter. Let’s just say that’s a hard job, especially trying to keep track of who lapped who. Let’s also say I did my best. While we’re just saying, let’s also just say that only a few local runners are mad at me for miscounting.

The last event of the evening was a 5k relay, three runners per team. One team was missing a runner, so I volunteered. I was wearing cargo shorts, and had no running gear with me. I ate a Polish sausage for lunch, with ice cream and greasy butterfly fries (basically potato chips – there was a local street fair). Our team’s goal was to get under 18 minutes.

I took the first mile and threw caution to the wind and sped off with the really fast guys. I hung with them (barely) for the first lap, but had to let them pull away. “You’re going down, barefoot!” I hear a voice behind me say. It was John Dewey, the owner of Off’n Running. Yup, I was, sasusage doing somersaults in the tum tum. He speed around the outside of me going around the corner. I tried to keep up, but had to let him go. On the last straightaway, I hear footsteps behind me. A young guy sprints past. I had to let him go too. At the baton hand-off, I panicked because I didn’t see my teammate. He was there, I just get panicky at race finishes. He takes the baton and runs.

It took my 5:36 to finish that mile. Not bad! Our team finished in 17:56. “Barefoot shmarefoot,” said my fellow runners. “You ran in cargo shorts?” What can I say, I’m fashionably versatile.

Of course, don’t forget to vote for me to be your Chocolate Milk Representative. I’ve been swapping the lead with runners who want to use the grant money to buy shoes.