“The soles have to be flat, and they have to be black.”
That’s Iris‘ criteria for running shoes. Flat soles because she feels support and cushioning forces her to run in a way she doesn’t like. Black because that’s her style. She likes these.
I wonder what kind of shoe she’d be prescribed if she took the wet footprint test and was analyzed on a treadmill. She hates treadmills; like cushioning, she feels they make her run in a way she doesn’t like. Getting a bad case of sciatica after a few miles on a treadmill last winter (she’s had sciatica issues before, but never that bad) also has something to do with the way she feels about them.
But back to the shoe, the style she likes isn’t sold in running shoe stores. They’re not considered running shoes at all, which is probably why they cost $45 instead of $80. With no arch support and little cushioning, how does she determine when to buy a new pair?
“Um, when I want a new color…” she answered. “I wanted the blue ones because I liked the orange trim, and the gold highlights looked cool. The problem with those, though, is that they’re navy and don’t match most of my running togs.” She sounded a little guilty.
I tried a different line of questioning. “Do you notice a qualitative difference between your first pair and the most recent?”
“Well, the oldest pair are dirtier. They’re also a half-size larger than the others, so I guess that feels different.”
“So there’s no structural breakdown from the miles you’ve run in them for the last year?”
“Like what, the stitching?”
She was only vaguely familiar with the 300-500 mile rule. For her, the sole isn’t supposed to provide cushion, so any depletion of cushioning has gone unnoticed. When I told her the swap-out rule, she said, “Typical. Sounds like something men would make up as an excuse to buy new shoes.”
Iris’ attitude re shoes didn’t come from nowhere. She has worked in the fashion publication industry for years, always being inundated with the same ol’ product repackaged and sold as new and improved. To her, the claims made by Nike sound just like the claims made by L’oreal. Her mind is unsullied by the conventional wisdom of running culture.
She started running with a pair of cushy New Balance shoes. As she was learning how to run (note that she assumed there was a how in the first place), she felt the regular running shoe prevented her from making the adjustments necessary to be smooth. “They forced me to stomp and made my knees clang together.” So she went to Target and found a flat-soled sneaker. She doesn’t wear them anymore. Why?
Iris has also struggled with sciatica issues for years. Protecting her back requires the same fluidity as running barefoot. She knows what kind of movements lead to pain. She recognizes the warning signs. Instead of ignoring the pain or worse, hiding it, she listens to it and adjusts. The only demand she makes of her shoes is to look good and stay out of the way.
I don’t think Iris needs shoes, but I’m not worried about her getting injured. She’s running with the mentality of a barefoot runner, a mentality cultivated by a history unrelated to running, so the shoes don’t matter. Her sciatica provides much of the same feedback that bare feet do.Without her mentality and the feedback, I’d be concerned.
Barefootery isn’t a moral thing for me. The debate isn’t about shoes. It’s not barefoot vs shod. It’s critical thinking vs blind trust, learning vs magic pills, and evidence vs marketing. Runners imbue magical attributes to their shoes that don’t exist. They don’t make you run better, you make you run better. They don’t prevent injury, you prevent injury.
So what do shoes do? Keep your feet warm, protect your soles, and serve as a fashion accoutrement. The trade-off is hot feet, less ground feedback, and tan lines. And the cost of the shoe, of course. Anything else is just stuff ding dongs make up. Understanding that is a big step in the right direction. What you do about it is up to you.