The zealotry of barefoot running

by Professor


We were born to run. We had to run to survive. We had to run to hunt. We had to run to get from camp to camp. All that changed eventually (we evolved), then concrete got invented. To protect us from concrete, the running shoe got invented. Now with the obesity epidemic we may have to go back to running to survive.

Running shoes are expensive and it is a competitive multi-billion dollar market. Surprisingly there is no actual evidence that the expensive running shoe actually help prevent injuries. There is plenty of theoretical information that suggests they do and should help. There is also no evidence that they don’t either (something the critics conveniently forget!).

Now we have the natural barefoot running community arguing for a return back to nature and that running barefoot is better. The supporters of barefoot running make some extraordinary claims for the benefits of barefoot running. But like the evidence for the use of running shoes, there is no evidence that running barefoot is actually any better than running with expensive running shoes. There is some evidence on the difference in the way we run with and without shoes, but none on which one is better. It intrigues me that the running barefoot community love to point out the lack of evidence for running shoes, but then fail to acknowledge that lack of evidence for what they are doing! That does not mean what they doing is wrong and that barefoot running is bad. It means that you barefoot runners cannot have it both ways when you quote research.

For example, there was this really bad piece of research comparing running shoes to barefoot running on knee torques. The research was totally demolished and has been shown to be meaningless. BUT, the running barefoot community have taken this research and trumpeted it about how running shoes cause knee arthritis (the research had nothing to do with knee arthritis).  The story has been widely commented on in blogs and in the news media, but at the same time totally misreported.

What I fail to understand is why the barefoot running community will trumpet any research that shows running shoes might be bad without any acknowledgement of the problems or shortcomings with the research.

Are the blind? If they not blind they are certainly irrational and zealots.

I will always go where the research takes me, after a systematic evaluation of the quality of that research.

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