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Running Shoes Vs Barefoot Running

Updated on October 31, 2010

Depending on your running style and technique there are a whole host of fancy running shoes to suit your needs, but do you really need running shoes to run? There is a slow growing club of barefoot runners out there who tell us that we don't. Personally, I am on the fence with this one, although my own personal experience has compelled me to consider both options and to weigh up the pros and cons. Our anatomy cries out with evidence that humans where born to run, although it is pretty much a hung jury on whether we where designed to sprint over short distances or run over long distances. We have the ability to do both and our feet are exquisitely designed to accommodate these actions.

So let's take a look at running shoes:-

Pros – can be purchased depending on your needs e.g. if you have high arches or flat feet etc. In other words you can't just buy any old pair of running shoes because they look the part - what's right for one person is a short road to injury for another. If you have had issues in the form of injuries or pain related to running you can go to a specialist running store where they will put you through various tests to ascertain your particular feet shape and biomechanics etc.

Cons – Running shoes are expensive and if you do buy a pair that are right for you the experts recommend you buy new ones at least a couple of times a year or every 300-400 miles. That can be hard on your finances. They also suggest that you have at least one other good pair so that you can alternate between them. This can all add up to a pretty big price tag.

Running barefoot:-

Pros – no big price tag. Your feet came with your body and they don't, hopefully, need replacing too often. If you have the right shape of foot – that is, one that doesn't have fallen arches or too high an arch then you can run as nature intended. Studies have also shown that barefoot running actually reduces impact stresses on the body as our feet can react naturally to running surfaces rather than struggling through a cushioned sole to find natural stability. And yet running shoe manufacturers tell us that we need to pay heed to things like cushioning along with various other things that we are led to believe that only expensive shoes can provide.

Cons – maybe we are meant to run barefoot, but are we meant to run barefoot on concrete? Concrete is a very hard surface and it's what most of us choose to go running on. Tarmac is a little easier on the joints, but not much. As well as being a hard surface it's also a surface full of modern debris. Our soft fleshy soles have been cocooned in one shoe or another since we were old enough to speak our first words and they are ill prepared to run on such surfaces – at least initially.

It has to be said again that I am very much on the fence here and that while one person might prefer to run barefoot another just can't run without proper tailored running shoes. It would seem that given the surfaces we run on it can be hard to just go back to the way nature intended. It would also seem in some respects that we can't always cheat mother nature with our power of innovation. We have to make a choice and, as they say, if it isn't broken don't fix it!


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