Monday, February 1, 2010

Our un-injured ancestors and barefoot running

I can't say that I've drunk the koolaid on the whole barefoot running craze.  Yes, I see that there would be some benefit to adopting it in small quantities to work on form, and strengthen the feet and ankles, but I have no plans to throw out my running shoes anytime soon.  One argument that I just don't get to support running barefoot is that it's the best choice because our ancestors did it.  Do we actually have data from our ancestors that show that they didn't suffer from achilles tendonitis, IT band syndrome, stress fractures or other common running injuries?  There are a lot of things about how our ancestors lived that don't parallel life today, and I'd have to say that in many ways we are better off today (or have the option to be better off depending upon our life style).  What was the life expectancy back then anyhow?   How do we know that our ancestors weren't plagued by common and frequent running types of injuries?  After all, those of us that have suffered from injuries, know that many of them aren't life-ending or even activity-limiting, so the fact that they endured doesn't meant that they weren't injured.  People win races while injured, and our ancestors could have survived evolutionarily while injured, as well. 

Yes, I'm currently injured.  Is it because of shoes?  Not in my opinion.  I've been running for 25 years, and have had 2 side-lining injuries, one about 7 years into running, and the other another 17 years later.  I'd just call it part of the deal, especially when you're trying to run higher mileage consistently.  And I'm not blaming it on the fact that I wear shoes.  Like a lot of injuries, in my case, something got tweaked, and I ignored it and continued to tweak it--I didn't listen to my body when I should have and had a few races in the way.  So I continued to tweak it, and tweak it.  In my case, I think it had more to do with terrain than anything else.  I was in El Salvador for 5 months for work and ran a lot, but didn't have the opportunity to run on trails.  Upon returning, I jumped into many trail events quickly, and the quick transition from smooth road back to rocky trail was more than my road-weakened ankles could handle. It's kind of a no-brainer that one shouldn't train for MMT-type trails on roads.  Would my ankles have been stronger had I been running barefoot?  Well, maybe, but they also would have been stronger had I eased back into trail running.  And running in the dark in San Salvador barefoot could have led to far worse injuries. 

I'll be anxious to see the data in a few years from outspoken barefoot runners who think it's the only way.  In 25 years, can they claim 0 injuries?  I'm doubtful.  While being injured sucks, I happen to think it's a part of the game.  And in some ways, it's good for us.  In my case, it's widened my cross-training repertoire and I've discovered that I love some other activities, too, which I can make more time for when I can't run, like road biking, bikram yoga, swimming and snowshoeing.  Being injured has also lit a fire in terms of desire to be on the trails again.  It wasn't out, but the flame was flickering a bit low this fall.  I can't wait to be back out there running long distances.  In shoes.