Running Shoes, by Paul Talbot

I've been thinking a lot about the training shoe question lately. If we look at the shoes from the early 70's and earlier, they were no more than what we today would consider racing flats and people put in 100+ mile weeks in them, no problem (and they were probably faster 100 mile weeks as well). If we look at the days of interval training, we'll find distance runners getting in 100+ mile weeks on the track in spikes!

Gordon Pirie (former 5,000 WR holder) argued that 70% of running injuries today are directly attributable to the poor running shoes of today that force people to run incorrectly (and that correct running is injury free).

In his book, "Marty Liquori's Guide for the Elite Runner," Liquori states that before the market became dominated by shoes aimed at the common jogger, achilles tendon problems were virtually unknown.

Lydiard advocated training and racing in the lightest shoes possible.

Modern shoes force most people to run in a particular way. They are designed to reduce pronation, force a heel strike, "protect" the ankle or achilles tendon, etc. If you run barefoot you will find that a) it is nearly impossible to land on your heel, the natural motion is ball of the foot strike or flat footed strike, and b) there is no noticible pronation.

The heel-strike character of most running shoes is troublesome. First, the heel is not a natural shock absorber. Your arch, and foot are the first areas of shock absorption while the achilles and calf muscles control pronation. Furthermore, landing flat footed allows for the knee to come over the foot and bend more quickly which allows the legs to take up more of the shock absorption. Some studies have actually shown that barefooted running is more shock absorbent than running in common running shoes. Secondly, because most shoes are designed for a heel-strike, they build up the "cushioning" under the heel. While this undoubtedly helps absorb some of the shock that jars your leg bones while heel-striking, the build up of cushioning under the heel also elevates the heel. This can have a shortening effect on the achilles and calf which can make it more prone to injury. The build also reduces stability. This is often compensated for by other gadgets in the shoe which try to hold the heel firmly in place and reduce the pronation (which is a way the body reduces shock). Unfortunately, this places more and more burden on the achilles and calf to control the foot when it hits the ground.

Lets remember that the shoe industry is based on the average, overweight, weekend jogger and not the serious runner. I don't mean to trash the entire shoe industry here, some models are very good, but at the same time lets realize that many of the injuries of today were rare 25 years ago and can be attributable to the shoes of today.

For many -- perhaps most -- a light, simple shoe that tries to do the least may be the best.

Incidentally, the best "cure" for any lower leg injuries has always been, for me, to run a few miles barefoot on grass. This has worked for me for shin splints and plantar fascia problems.

Many are sure to disagree with what I've said here, that's fine, but I thought I'd put forth one perspective for people to think about.

Paul Talbot