Monday, August 8, 2011

As Predicted

A percentage of runners have been running barefoot for a long time, have continued to run barefoot through the current barefoot mania and will continue to run barefoot for years to come.

And then there is the rest of us.

I think it's safe to say that over the last year or so, we've all at least considered drinking the Kool-Aid.  By taking a completely crass view of Born To Run, you realize that it is one of the greatest (and perhaps completely unintended) works of propaganda ever written.  It's an entertaining, readable story that makes some very compelling arguments for barefoot/minimalist running.  We all have a little bit of a primal instinct left in our DNA and the booked tapped into it perfectly.

But human nature is complicated, probably more now than in any time in history.  We live in a world that became increasingly fast paced through the second half of the 20th century.  That pace was then amplified by the technology of the last 10 years.  As a result we have grown very impatient because we can get anything we want within 24 hours.  Information is instantly available.  Books, music and movies can be downloaded in a matter of minutes.  And as long as we are willing to pay for it, almost any product we can think of can be delivered to our doorsteps overnight.

So what happens when information is instantly available and (in the case goods and services) that information can be acted upon so quickly?  Trends come and go faster than ever before.

Barefoot running is a trend, plain and simple.  Like I said in the first paragraph of this post, there are people who have always run barefoot and will continue to do so.  But they aren't the people who have been overly evangelizing barefoot running recently.  They aren't the people who have been propping up Vibram's balance sheet for the last 18 months.  And they aren't the people who will inevitably get out as fast as they got in.

I read a forum thread on today where the poster was commenting on the barefoot running trend by citing Malcolm Gladwell, the author of one of my favorite books The Tipping Point.  I'm paraphrasing here, but the point being made was that trends usually swing opposite to each other with every cycle.  If a low heel drop and minimal uppers are the technological and cultural paradigm of running shoes today, it will eventually go the other way.  In fact, it's already happening.  Have you seen these shoes yet?

Hoka One One "Mafate"
 From the Hoka One One website:
By using an EVA 30% softer and increasing its total volume to 2.5 times that of a typical trail running shoe, we allow for more cushioning than any other shoe on the market today, dissipating up to 80% of the shock associated with heal striking when running.
I'm not saying Hoka One One is going to single-handedly swing the trend.  Personally, the only way you'd ever get me to run in those things is if I could also wear a Japanese school-girl outfit, pigtails and a Hello Kitty back-pack.  But eventually, something will stick.  And most of us will quickly forget what the whole fuss about barefoot running was in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, I'll be the first to admit I am a sucker for trends.  But as a result of trying out Vibram Five Fingers a couple times early on, I consciously decided to avoid barefoot running.  I realized that I had already found running shoes that allowed me to run long and far while staying injury free.  I mostly wear Newtons.  To be fair, I'm not surprised that their design borrows from both schools of thought.

I'm also not bashing the true barefoot runners.  I recognize that just because the "trendiness" of barefoot running has eclipsed the act itself, the trend does not invalidate barefoot running.  In fact, I would suspect that there are many barefoot runners that are just as annoyed as I am.

And yes, the barefoot running trend annoys me.  The reason is simple - running is a very intense activity and your feet are way too important to get caught up in hype and for-profit marketing.  I don't know of anything in the world that works for everyone, so I think it's safe to assume that barefoot running is no different.  Yet, the spin on barefoot running has reached such a fever pitch that the message has almost become "unless you start barefoot running RIGHT NOW you will get injured and your running career will be over".  Sure, there are plenty of more reasonable voices out there.  But the problem is that at the apex of any trend it is super easy for all common sense to go flying out the window.

Think I'm wrong?  Then why is Justin Bieber so popular?


TechMartPlus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Patrick Mahoney said...

Note: "Shiv" was spam (something about my blog being the best ever, would I kindly click a link?), not someone who disagreed with me.

KovasP said...

I think the problem with the barefoot running "trend" were the extremes it engendered - you either ran barefoot or you were a step away from injury, or, if you ran barefoot, you were drinking the kool-aid. I believe that, like minimalist shoes and Hoka Ones, there is a place for barefooting within each runner's toolbox. No question that my foray into BF showed me many areas needing improvement, which I probably wouldn't have noticed shod. Besides,

"I never thought I could feel this power
I never thought that I could feel this free
I'm strong enough to climb the highest tower
And I'm fast enough to run across the sea"

Jennifer said...

I think everything is trend at some point. When I was rock climbing it became trendy, but that was not why I was doing it. In fact the trendiness of it was what got me away from it, same went for sea kayaking, all of the sudden everyone wants to do it. But trends do offer an opportunity for competition and development of new products and techniques that might not have happened, like, sticky rubber. Or really fat trail shoes! I mean if you look at the participation in triathlons I would say it's a pretty trendy thing to do right now.

Unknown said...

Good post with excellent points - glad you wrote this!

My problem with the BF running fad is the extremist mentality of its cultish zealot followers who make wild claims because they read a book about about some crazy ultra-marathoners in Copper Canyon. Such attitudes have led me to disregard BF running completely.

Lora Abernathy said...

Completely agree with you!

Laura said...

In theory...I get the idea behind it and don't disagree that it can help with overall form etc. That being said, there is no way I would run barefoot in my hood which is a pretty clean/safe area., pavement, debris, sidewalks etc. as well as pounding away for whatever length of run are not in the cards for me.


Maybe its the engineer in me.. but have you noticed that all barefoot runners are 5'nothing and weigh 100 pounds? They are from the mountains of Mexico or the plains of Kenya?

Hmmmm...... if I was 5'nothing and weighed 90 pounds less, my feet would probably be happy campers also running barefoot..

Paulie B said...

I have always run with a forefoot strike in shoes. I find a lot of barefoot running advocates compare the best of forefoot strikes to the worst of over striding heel strikes. Over striding is a separate issue and should be treated as such. Many advocates of barefoot running also run with a forefoot strike - using shoes! The term barefoot is simply hype and somewhat dishonest. Perhaps it should be called forefoot strike in racing flats running? This would not have any sensationalism, controversy, or be as marketing friendly though.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree . But hey, what's wrong with a Hello Kitty backpack? Did you see Galloway's comments on barefoot running? He said the same thing. He's been around to see this fad surface and disappear numerous times. Yes, it works for some who are super in tune with their bodies. But I'm not injury prone and my brooks work for me, so I ain't fixing what ain't broken (only thing broken is clearly my grammar).

Matty O said...

When the morning news idiots start talking about wanting to get Vibrams, you know the fad is in full swing.

I tried changing my stride to a forefoot strike prior to going barefoot. With that epic fail and achilles injury, I did not even dream of tasting that kool-aid.

If it works for you, awesome... if not, don't force it haha.

I commend the people that have the body mechanics to embrace minimalist running, do you realize how much money they are saving on shoes?!?!?!? :)

TRI714 said...



elephants have 4 knee's

I think your cute.

Not my most intelligent reply, but I think you get my point.
BF running I don't get it.

Lucas R. Tucker said...

"I could also wear a Japanese school-girl outfit, pigtails and a Hello Kitty back-pack"

Pay to see that!

Jason said...

This is why I enjoy reading your blog man. You take a stance popular or not.

Now I'm not sure where I stand on barefoot running. But I can say that running in the Brooks T6 and the KSwiss Blade is probably as close as I'll get to barefoot running. I THINK!

I take my shoes off when I'm done and walk my cooldown barefoot to build up the strength in my feet but as for running barefoot I'm not there. I'm also going to say that I thought the furthest I would run in the T6 was 13.1 miles but now I think I can run a full mary in the T6.

I will evolve my running at my pace and not at the pace that the marketers pump up commercials and trends.

it's all about pace said...

it really makes me laugh that one must buy expensive shoes to try barefoot running... it reminds me of the emperoors new clothes

it's all about pace said...

"emperoors" sp? you know that king dude...

Johann said...

Ha, I read this thinking it was my own post. Exactly my thinking and I've been in contact with the Hoka guys for 6 months already. The trail ultras in the USA are dominated by Hokas already. Everyone wears them. What gets me irritated is the BF people that all say they've been injury free since running barefoot just two sentences after they said they are easing into it with low mileage. Everyone will be injury free with low mileage. It's pure logic.

Neil Zee said...

It's no different than people spouting off about the merits of their favorite shoe. I don't know why runners who DON't run barefoot spend so much time talking about how stupid or trendy barefoot is.

There are zealots in all manners of life. the vast majority of us don't give 2 shits about what everyone else is doing, if they do it, or what they run in. If someone asks, i'll tell them all about it. simple for me.

I am 6'2 245lbs and am happily barefoot. I looked at it as an option to some issues, and for me it worked.

Oh, btw. If you run with shoes, you don't have an argument FOR barefoot.You still run with shoes. No matter how thin or flexible the shoe is. I haven't spent 1$ on shoes since I became a barefoot runner. (sorry, I bought an 8$ pair of walmart waterwalkers for winter running)the rest of my minimal shoes just showed up at the door.

Goodnight now.

The Green Girl said...

I was wondering what those thick soled shoes were - I saw a guy wearing them this weekend at the ultramarathon.

Everyone will be injury free with low mileage. It's pure logic.

So, true!

The Weird Teacher said...

Vibrams aren't barefoot, they are minimalist. It's close, but not the same. And I love my Bikilas, they are the only thing I run in, unless I feel like running bare.
But here's the thing a bout barefoot runners: most of them don't care about your shoes. They are not trying to convert you. They just enjoy running so much they can't help but share. And that, more than anything else, is the thing that will drive the people who are barefoot runners to continue to barefoot. It makes them run happy. It feels more fun to run without shoes.
Why would you try to minimize (get it?) a group who is enjoying running, just like you do? We are all one big happy running family. Let it be a fad, or not. Why point and say, "Ha! I knew you were going to go back to shoes!"

XLMIC said...

While I do all of my training shod, I did do my one and only triathlon barefoot. It transformed me. Or maybe it was the skirt I was wearing?

Chris K said...

I haven't read a blog in over a week, but boy did I pick a good one. What does shod mean again? I always get confused on that? Look at Neil throw down a Jim Rome-ism.

I'd run barefoot, maybe, if it made me run faster. But, I'm sure it doesn't. So I won't.

Ransick said...

You can start a new fad with the Hello kitty back pack. Guaranteed to make you run faster or get your but kicked :-).

Jamie Walker said...

This is a great post. I'm an ultra runner. I love the trail and really hate the road. That said, I am in no way an equipment junkie. IN fact, I've been running in the same type of basic running shoes for as long as I can remember. Even my clothes are as simple as possible. Usually a tank top from target, some old running shorts (do't know the brand) and a sports bra....I'm a minimalist runner..adn that's it. I always think all the new shoes are just about marketing...but that's just me.

Emz said...

Wowza. Balls. Out.

Love it. [the post. The post].

I thought everyone loved beiber for his hair?!


*all kidding aside-great post*

Amanda@runninghood said...

Wow, really l written Patrick. You have a way with words indeed. I've been thinking similar things lately as I was asked to review a pair of barefoot sandals. I think there is a place for trying out this type of running...a way to strengthen our feet, improve our stride perhaps...but certainly something I don't see myself using long term. Again, you write well man! Glad I popped in here. thanks for your words.

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