Alright, so here’s an article about that military study which found that running shoe design is complete and utter voodoo. McDougall has a couple of good posts on the topic. I do my best to be skeptical about any study involving the human body because there are so many uncontrollable factors. The Lieberman study, for example, is interesting but doesn’t really prove anything. I’m having trouble finding something to criticize with this latest one.
If I’m understanding it correctly (a dangerous assumption), the military was about to purchase a bunch of foot-specific shoes for the troops, who like the general public seem to be plagued with running related injuries. Surprise #1: instead of just going ahead and spending taxpayer money on a bunch of unproven remedies, they conducted their own study to see if it was worth the investment.
Question interjection: why is the military doing this, and not Consumer Reports, or the FDA (or whichever bureaucratic entity that’s supposed to protect us from snake-oil selling ne’er-do-wells), or the BBB? Or, for that matter, the shoe companies who are selling the stupid things?
Anyway, what did they find? Here’s a quote from the NYTimes:
Injury rates were high among all the runners, but they were highest among the soldiers who had received shoes designed specifically for their foot types. If anything, wearing the “right” shoes for their particular foot shape had increased trainees’ chances of being hurt.
Surprise #2: the “right” shoes were actually worse. I figured it would be random.
I can’t think of a counterpoint argument. A bunch of runners, all on the same training plan, in about as controlled an environment you’re going to get, getting hurt regardless of what fashion crime was attached to their feet. If they’re wearing the shoes they’re “supposed” to be wearing, even more get hurt. The uncomfortable truth is that the consensus could not have been more wrong. Smart people believe BS, buy BS, and preach BS. Here’s some more BS:
For now, if you’re heading out to buy new running shoes, plan to be your own best advocate. “If a salesperson says you need robust motion-control shoes, ask to try on a few pairs of neutral or stability shoes, too,” Mr. Ryan says. “Go outside and run around the block” in each pair. “If you feel any pain or discomfort, that’s your first veto.” Hand back those shoes. Try several more pairs. “There really are only a few pairs that will fit and feel right” for any individual runner, he says. “My best advice is, turn on your sensors and listen to your body, not to what the salespeople might tell you.”
… and you’ll still walk out of the store $100 poorer with a remarkably unstudied product that is just as likely to cause you pain. In order to be a smart customer, you have to know what you’re looking for. If your form is messed up, a shoe you like will probably expedite your injuries. If you’re a new runner, you don’t know anything yet. If you’re an experienced runner who’s doing fine, well, the shoes you like will be discontinued eventually and you’re going to have to find a new pair that works with your form pronto, and keep your fingers crossed you don’t get hurt in the expensive trial and error process.
Frankly, I think most of the shod running community is screwed. They’ve been running in cushy-bouncy ankle brace shoes for years. Most seem to have it down well enough that they only get hurt once every other year or so. What’s going to happen to them if their cushy-bouncy ankle brace shoes are taken off the shelf, as many barefooters advocate? Are they going to be able to make the transition to cushionless shoes? No, they won’t. They’re going to break every metatarsal in their feet. And forget barefooting; that’s just a fad. And the ground is saturated with rat poison and nuclear waste and poo. And it’s gotta hurt!
The only difference between the motion control (or whatever) shoe and the PMS shoe is that consumers think one makes sense and the other is silly. There is no science, only producers catering to the preferences of consumers. They each rely on he assumption the other knows what they’re doing. Blind leading the blind.
But you like your shoes? That’s fine; go ahead and enjoy them with your magnetic bracelets while reading your horoscope and having your palm read to tell you what homeopathic remedy you need in to remove the toxins from your body should you bump into Bigfoot on your next trail run.
Was that too mean? That was too mean. I just couldn’t bear to delete that last run-on sentence.
My next post: My wife wears shoes, I’m totally cool with it, and why.
PS I’m feeling much better today, thank you. It’s nice to be able to take a break from running without worrying about “messing up” training for some race or another.
PPS Some of the lack of confidence in humanity expressed in the above post is no doubt related to a rough week teaching art camp. Teaching while sick is not fun, and yesterday as I was cleaning up after class one of my students rushed in to throw away some of the art she did. “I don’t feel like carrying it to the car,” she said. “I thought you did some nice work,” I said after she left.