Doc’s Talk 09-25-2011

Dr. Richard Ando, Allergist, presented “Barefoot Running: So Easy a Caveman Can Do It”.

Endurance running has helped humankind to survive for millions of years. Paleolithic man (the true caveman), a hunter-gatherer before the development of agriculture and permanent settlements, engaged in intense endurance exercises (10 – 20 mile runs per day). Aerobic exercise, such as running, keeps us healthy.

Today, the injury rate among those who participate in endurance exercise is 30%.  Before the 1970s, people ran either barefoot or with minimal footwear (e.g. sandals, moccasins). Contrary to popular belief, the bare foot appears to be well suited to running long distances without heavily cushioned running shoes like those manufactured since the 1970s.

Research has shown we are capable of running safely when barefoot or in minimal footwear by landing on the ball of the foot (forefoot strike) or with a flat-foot (midfoot) strike. However, today’s running shoes seem to have forced us into running with a heel strike.

Heel strike shoes generate two impacts to the body: 1) When the heel strikes the ground (resulting in transient impact), and  2) When the forefoot hits the ground.  This may be why people running in shoes have more injuries.

Running in “barefoot shoes” (e.g. Vibram FiveFinger shoes) forces you to run with a different style: Only one impact occurs at either the forefoot or midfoot foot strike. This style of running may be safer and lead to fewer injuries, as well as being biomechanically more sound from an energy and force distribution standpoint.

In the book, “Born To Run”, author Christopher McDougall found that there is no evidence whatsoever that running shoes help prevent injury.

In Hawaii people have been “running barefoot” for a long time due to the popularity of rubbah slippahs, a.k.a. “zoris”. These shoes were first produced in Hawaii during World War II when there was a shortage of raw materials and the manufacturing firm Scott Hawaii switched from making rubber plantation boots to rubber sandals.

Like every sport, healthy running is all about technique. Ultimately, the debate isn’t about Bare Soles vs. Shoes, it’s about learning to run gently. Master that and you can wear – or not wear – anything you please.

You can practice “barefoot running” today, regardless of what kind of shoes you have.  Simply run with a forefoot to mid-foot strike. It’s so easy cavemen did it!

For a closer look at the kinetics and force of impact of the forefoot, midfoot, and heel strikes, see: “Running Kinetics and Impact Forces from Daniel Lieberman’s Skeletal Biology Lab”. Mahalo to Dr. Richard Ando for sharing this information with the Honolulu Marathon Clinic.