Coach of the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project (ODP) and Owner of Hansons Running Shops, Michigan
There has been great discussion surrounding the idea of BAREFOOT RUNNING. I have some very strong opinions based on 35 years of running experience, 28 years of coaching and 18 years as a retailer. For some people, there can be some advantages to running barefoot in limited intervals, but nearly 100% of all runners will eventually get hurt if they are running all of their mileage barefoot.
Kevin Hanson the Runner
I began running in 1975 as a high school cross-country runner. I immediately appreciated the newest shoe technology that was available. I saved all of my cash so that I could drop the $19.95 on the brand new Adidas SL-76. I vividly remember my dad telling me that he would NEVER be willing to pay 20 bucks for silly running shoes. These were single density midsoles that were firm enough to be used as a hammer (literally). We all needed the new technology that only came out every four years (Olympic Years). I am certain that 90% of our team had stress fractures, or at the very minimum, a stress reaction. Luckily for us, those terms were not yet invented. Anything and everything that hurt above the ankle and below the knee was a “shin splint.”
As the shoe technology changed, so did the frequency of our aches and pains. Lower leg issues became less and less. Shoes became softer and provided much needed relief. This, however, led to more and more knee problems. These cleared up once dual density technology became a part of the running shoe industry. Fast forward to today: The better understanding of the foot has allowed the shoe companies to both control foot fall and allow the foot to respond in a natural state. Although that may sound like a contradiction, it isn’t.
The minimalist (barefoot running backers) will tell you that “any control is not allowing the foot to respond naturally.” This is only true if you are in the wrong shoe. For example, an extreme pronator will need some guidance in the form of medial posting, or additional support on the medial side of the shoe. This is to protect the wearer from his or her own weaknesses. To have this individual run bare- foot would take us back to 1975 with guaranteed lower leg pain. WHY? Because your arch is your own human cushioning unit, but we do not all have the same arch. An overpronator needs the shoe to do what his/her arch is not doing naturally.
Kevin Hanson the Coach
I work with athletes of all levels, from high school kids who are new to the sport to Olympic level runners. I believe that there are some definite advantages to both running and walking barefoot. However, I would not recommend doing more than six to eight 100-meter strides, twice a week. This will enable the athlete to strengthen the plantar fascia and all of the soft connective tissues. Although some runners may build up to slightly more reps than this, it’s a perfect example of “more is not better.”
Are weights a good supplemental training method? YES. Can biking help benefit your running? YES. Is there an advantage to training on hills? YES. Is there any benefit to running in the pool? YES. But all of these fall into the same category as barefoot running. They should be supplemental, and should NOT be performed 100% of the time in training. There is a time and a place for all of these things, but they should never replace your daily runs, in your properly fit training shoes.
All of our athletes wear racing flats and spikes. However, I would never recommend they wear them for every run. They would end up hurt and not be able to get in the amount of work necessary to be successful in the sport. The foot is not strong enough to deal with this amount of force over long periods of time. We need the support and cushioning that is provided in today’s ever improving training shoes.
Kevin Hanson the Retailer
Nearly 10 years ago, Nike came to us with a new training aid, the Nike Free. They were quick to point out that it was NOT a running shoe. It was a supplemental piece of equipment designed to protect the foot from debris while doing barefoot strides. I had one major worry. They looked cool, and I feared that the Nike marketing machine would advertise them as a running shoe. We do over 30% of our business in doctor referrals. I knew that if any patient took the Nike Free back to the doctor’s office that I would lose his/her referrals. Within three years, the Nike Free was sold in more than a dozen colors and peddled to thousands of college kids. Hansons Running Shop never brought them in because we knew that they would not be used for their intended purpose. We are a function store, not a fashion store.
I would be happy to bring in a training device that would protect the foot while doing strides a couple days a week. The problem is that the misinformation that is being generated by the minimalists makes it nearly impossible to protect our customers. I feel that this type of product being on our wall adds legitimacy to using it on a daily basis. This would not be in the best interest of our customers’ health.