Thursday, January 11, 2007

Do I really need high-tech running shoes?

As part of my new years resolution, I've started running again at least five days a week. Just 2-4 miles at an easy pace. This is good, and I'm enjoying it.

While I'm already beginning to see the benefits of running regularly, even after just a week or so, I'd started having questions about whether my $100 and something dollar New Balance stability shoes are really any help.

I'm a big guy, and over the years that I've been running I have been very conscious of the possibility of injury. I've been pretty lucky so far. The worst injury I've ever had, I have to admit, I got while running, but that had less to do with the shoes and more to do with the Chevy that hit me.

Once upon a time, when I was semi-serious about racing, I used to mix the occasional barefoot session at a rubberized track into my weekly running schedule. It was always fun and, although I went a little slower, it never actually hurt in any way.

Skip forward ten years, and now there's a lot of buzz about shoes like the Nike Free, which allows the foot to move like it would without the benefit of a running shoe. On the other hand, we have shoes so advanced that they have computers built in to adjust the cushioning as you go.

I did a little research and found arguments on both sides. Some argue that it is impossible to run without artificial assistance, and that to do so risks serious injury and biomechanical inefficiency. The other argues that the human foot is a complicated machine which functions best when allowed to move naturally.

Now, although I'm neither a biologist or an engineer, I can see a certain logic emerge from this. The concept of the high-tech running shoe, the very idea on which a billion dollar industry is based, is that human feet are evolved for something other than walking and running. Interesting.

Now running barefoot is fine and dandy on a well groomed lawn or rubberized track, but I've lived in neighborhoods where I actually had to step over used needles on the sidewalk during my morning run, so I figured I'm not entirely ready to abandon the idea of shoes.

As an experiment, yesterday I put on a pair of black Chuck Taylors and headed out for my usual route, a nice packed-dirt path with a block of my house.

Nothing hurt, I wasn't sore, no pain, after the first five minutes I didn't even feel and major jarring or jostling. I found a nice, smooth pace and didn't try to overdo it. In spite of having no EVA foam, elevated heel, torsion bar, motion control, air pockets or any sort of claim to major technological advancement, my Chucks didn't seem to hurt me at all. In fact I felt better than I did the day before.

And I got them for $19.99


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