Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

You Say, "Tomato..."

People love gadgets, innovation, technology...anything that presents the possibility of getting more for less. Weight loss, online bidding sites, and "zero percent interest" all gain our immediate attention. sometimes, these novelties wear off, but sometimes, they become part of accepted culture. Among the fitness/training community, the latest technical brainstorm has to do with what one wears while running.
The problem with running is that leg and back injuries from overuse tend to be common. Add to that the fact that running just isn't high on the "fun meter," and you have an activity that has constantly searched for ways to make the experience more rewarding. Heart rate monitors, "track  my run" technology, flashy colors for shoes and events like color runs or mud runs have all had their moments...but going relatively shoeless has become, over the past couple of years, a panacea for runners' injury issues, and people are flocking to the trend like pre-teens to a Justin Bieber concert.
The idea gained significant momentum in 2010 when Kevin Hatala, a grad student in evolutionary anthropology at Harvard, presented a study he and others had conducted among the Kalenjin tribe in Kenya: a group noted for running long distances without shoes. As reported in the journal Nature, these people ran almost exclusively by landing first on the balls of their feet. This, of course, was revolutionary news since running shoes had long sought to cushion the heel of running shoes with air or gel since most people were shown to land there first...and a potential cause for all the joint injuries was hinted.
Adherents by the thousands joined the minimalist revolution, and claims of lessened knee and back pain abounded as "shoe" prices soared. Soon, every manufacturers was promoting this type of footwear (just as they had promoted the rounded heel for walking shoes some time earlier!). Not everyone was totally convinced of course, and now comes evidence that the naysayers might have a point.
Published recently in PLoS One, was a more recent study done on the Daasanach tribe of Northern Kenya. This group has no history of competitive running, and no history of wearing shoes so it seemed like a good measure.
Researchers found that when the Daasanach people ran at an 8-minute per mile pace, 72% of them landed first on their heels, 24% of them landed in the midfoot area, and only 4% of the runners landed first on the balls of their feet...results that would seem to confound the earlier report. Even when they were asked to run faster to simulate sprinting, 45% STILL landed first on their heels, further muddying the water of research analysis.
The bottom line is, apparently, that the evidence remains inconclusive, much as researchers at UW-LaCrosse found in their study of the shoe/minimalist controversy when half of their respondents suffered increased joint pain over a two-week period.
Me? I'll stick to not running. After all, seven knee operations as the result of running have convinced me that nothing will help at this point other than a different form of exercise.


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