Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Burn Your Running Shoes?

Are specialized running shoes an overall benefit for the health and conditioning of those of us who wear them? Or do they encourage weakness in joints, tendons, and muscles? The argument for the anti-shoe proposition seems to come down to this:

'Putting your feet in shoes is similar to putting them in a plaster cast,' says Dr Hartmann. 'If I put your leg in plaster, we'll find 40 to 60 per cent atrophy of the musculature within six weeks. Something similar happens to your feet when they're encased in shoes.'

When shoes are doing the work, tendons stiffen and muscles shrivel. Work them out and they'll arc up. 'I've worked with the best Kenyan runners,' says Hartmann, 'and they all have marvellous elasticity in their feet. That comes from never running in shoes until you're 17.'
"Encased in shoes" -- wow, does that ever sound grim! Everything I can recall ever having seen encased in anything -- Han Solo in Boba Fett's carbonite brick, insects in ancient amber, errant mobsters in the end zone concrete of Giants Stadium -- is dead. Well, OK, except Han Solo, who remained medically alive.

As for "the best Kenyan runners," one thing so many of us who aren't the best Kenyan runners don't share with them is that first seventeen years of shoe-free running in Kenya. I, for one, have never set foot in Kenya (or anywhere else in Africa), shoed or unshoed, running or standing. I daresay most of us will concede the same.

That many of my tendons and muscles have been atrophied, shriveled, hardened, or otherwise vitiated by the constant use of shoes strikes me as a strong argument in favor of continuing to wear shoes.

Maybe this is sheer hubris talking, but as I face the question squarely, I think of running shoes in the way I think of clothing generally, indoor plumbing, microwave ovens, toilet paper, and countless other conveniences: frankly, I assume the continuing availability of running shoes, and without going so far as to believe that running shoes will protect me from injury -- certainly not every injury, perhaps not even most injuries runners are prone to -- I do not see a genuine need to ween myself from them. Should we reach a point where they are no longer available, I trust it will either be the conclusion of a long and subjectively welcome period of transition, or one consequence of a rapid deterioration in living standards. In the latter case, the availability of running shoes is sure to rank low on the list of worries.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"That many of my tendons and muscles have been atrophied, shriveled, hardened, or otherwise vitiated by the constant use of shoes strikes me as a strong argument in favor of continuing to wear shoes."

Sure, if you are happy with having atrophied and shriveled tendons.

Dale said...

Anon., fair enough. I think the point applies to everyone living a predominantly shoe-wearing life.

On balance, I think wearing shoes while running and walking is beneficial to health. I say it's a net plus after everything is weighed out. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think so.

To live is to gamble, right? Something's going to kill us, right?