I saw a programme recently examining the science and the proof behind things like expensive, hi-tech trainers and sports drinks. The conclusion in a nutshell was that there is no scientific basis for the need to keep glugging sports drinks or paying a fortune for sports shoes that supposedly do all sorts of wonderful things for your feet and posture.
The sports drink con has actually been exposed by various people over the years but nobody seems to notice. What interested me the most was that they examined the fairly recent phenomenon of barefoot running, the idea being that the human foot is perfectly well designed for walking and running and doesn’t need special thick, cushioned soles, and big heels that make you run in an unnatural way. The programme featured one or two people who went jogging in their bare feet and, being a casual jogger, it captured my imagination!
So today I took the plunge and went for a run without anything on my feet. On Sunday mornings I drive to the very scenic local university campus for an early morning jog, and today planned a slightly different route so that I would mainly be on grass and avoid the gravel track I normally use.
It was exhilarating! Running through grass wet with dew early in the morning is a wonderful, almost primal experience. The most difficult thing was trying to change my running style from heel-first to ball-of-foot-first, as I knew I was supposed to. It felt odd – but more worryingly it felt as if it was putting more strain on my calf muscles, and I have a history of calf problems from my football days.
I suspected I was exaggerating the style a little so eased off, and I also found it helped to take shorter strides. That helped, but I did develop a strain in my right calf.
I’m now really enthusiastic about barefoot running, but the other problem is that I know I can’t always run where there’s a surface that won’t rip my feet to shreds. One of the surprising things was that I found hard surfaces much less problematic that I’d expected. At one point I ran across a courtyard of stone slabs and it felt very comfortable underfoot. I even ran half a mile along a tarmac cycle track and that was fine too. In my experience although grass is preferable, hard surfaces are not a problem. It’s uneven surfaces, small stones and even twigs that make you wince. There was no way I could have run on the gravel path around the otherwise lovely lakeside route I usually take.
I can’t always get to the campus and more locally barefoot running would be much more hazardous. Alternating between barefoot and trainers would probably be a bad idea, so I’m not sure if this will be a one-off experiment or not. I may look at some of the ‘barefoot running shoes’ you can get now – but they are very expensive…