To go barefoot or to wear “foot coffins”? Searching for a middle ground…

Someone commenting on the blog recently referred to traditional running shoes as “marshmallow foot coffins.” Love that expression. I’m not sure where exactly it originated but “Shoe Coffins” is the title of a blog post here.

From the blog post:

“The shoe arguably got in the way of evolution,” said Galahad Clark, a seventh-generation shoemaker and chief executive of the shoemaker Terra Plana, based in London. “They’re like little foot coffins that stopped the foot from working the way it’s supposed to work.”

(Foot coffins! Too perfect!) Last year, I was hobbled by unbearable and untreatable foot pain whenever I attempted even moderate running and hiking — until I went barefoot. While barefoot is surely not for everyone, I say: foot coffin dogma be damned!”

They were responding to a blog post I wrote about lawsuits against wobbly unstable running shoes which were marketed as toning devices. Turns out they didn’t tone but some people did fall and twist their ankles.

But “marshmallow foot coffins” refers more broadly to the ever expanding range of protective running shoes designed to get everyone out there, whatever their gait, whatever their foot problems. Buying a running shoe is now like buying a medicial appliance. You need to know if over pronate or under pronate, if you need a hard structured shoe or a soft padded one.

I’m part of the problem. I wear serious running foot wear with orthotics after a bout of plantar fasciitis and two stress fractures. (Not caused by bone density. They tested. I have rock star bone density.)

But last year after reading lots about barefoot running, I decided to give it a try. I ran barefoot in the playing fields near my sabbatical rental house in Canberra, Australia. I felt like a kid again. I didn’t keep it up though.

Aside from feeling great my toenails also loved it. No more black or missing toenails. Bonus. But I didn’t keep it up once I returned to the land of pavement.

I’m not a complete convert to going barefoot for physical activities. But I do see the benefits. I love doing martial arts in bare feet. My feet seem stronger as a result. For CrossFit I’ve switched to minimalist athletic footwear and I like that too.

My daughter brought the barefoot habit home from New Zealand. There stores had signs, “no shirt, no shoes, no worries.” And lots of young people went barefoot everywhere. It’s not so well accepted here and she’s taken to carrying duct tape flip flops in her back pocket in case she’s somewhere people insist she wear shoes.

I’m not there yet though I’ve been going barefoot days when I ride my road bike into work and forget to carry shoes. How about you? Bare feet? Do you like it? Have you tried it? Tell us your story…

Some resources:

Throw out your orthotics and shoes that will last a million miles (CrossFit London on strengthening exercises for feet)

The Benefits of Going Barefoot

The Once and Future Way to Run (New York Times)

“We were once the greatest endurance runners on earth. We didn’t have fangs, claws, strength or speed, but the springiness of our legs and our unrivaled ability to cool our bodies by sweating rather than panting enabled humans to chase prey until it dropped from heat exhaustion. Some speculate that collaboration on such hunts led to language, then shared technology. Running arguably made us the masters of the world.

So how did one of our greatest strengths become such a liability? “The data suggests up to 79 percent of all runners are injured every year,” says Stephen Messier, the director of the J. B. Snow Biomechanics Laboratory at Wake Forest University. “What’s more, those figures have been consistent since the 1970s.” Messier is currently 11 months into a study for the U.S. Army and estimates that 40 percent of his 200 subjects will be hurt within a year. “It’s become a serious public health crisis.”

Nothing seems able to check it: not cross-training, not stretching, not $400 custom-molded orthotics, not even softer surfaces. And those special running shoes everyone thinks he needs? In 40 years, no study has ever shown that they do anything to reduce injuries. On the contrary, the U.S. Army’s Public Health Command concluded in a report in 2010, drawing on three large-scale studies of thousands of military personnel, that using shoes tailored to individual foot shapes had “little influence on injuries.””

From Why Things Hurt: Shoes: good support or coffins for your feet?

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