In Defense of Shoes

Hello, my name is Leah, and I am an addict.

I’ve been a runner for about 4 years now, and I can’t stop. I’ve become a race stalker, constantly seeking cheap(ish) races, for the thrill of competition and the race t-shirt that comes with registration. Next on my radar? The Charleston Marathon and Half Marathon on January 19. It has taken me this long to resign myself to the fact I’ll be running for the rest of my life. However, what I cannot accept, no matter how hard I try, is running without shoes.
For argument’s sake, let’s say barefoot running actually equals wearing those ridiculous, rubbery, and overpriced socks, Vibram FiveFingers. Vibrams skyrocketed to popularity and the soles of average people’s feet in 2007, surpassing even Crocs with the way they fostered a sense of footwear obsession.  It’s true that developing countries produce phenomenal runners who regularly train without shoes (Ahem, Kenya), but they are born and raised without shoes. They don’t wear other shoes all day and then take their shoes off just to run (Ahem, America).

Running shoes are now being cited as the bad guy in the running world. Christopher McDougall, author of the book Born to Run, the book that helped spark the recent barefoot running craze calls the fact that people need running specific shoes, “one of the most harmful myths in human performance.” Did anyone ever stop to think that maybe they just had the wrong pair? Shoes are, after all, inanimate. The brains behind the operation is… well, this is embarrassing, because the “brains” here is you. In other words, if your shoes aren’t doing you good, it’s probably your fault. I’d cite user error over athletic footwear conspiracy.

In fact, user error is what the experts are saying, too. Dr. Daniel Lieberman of Harvard University has studied human running patterns extensively, and says that the running style of the Kenyans is less detrimental to the human body because it lessens the shock of the force of impact when the foot hits the ground.  People bash running shoes because most pairs facilitate a heel-strike running style, which is not what the Kenyans do. They run gentler, on their toes. This is why running shoes “cause problems,” people don’t know how to use them, and usually get a pair that’s too over-engineered. People can get injured in Vibrams, too. Vibram virgins find themselves injured from not taking the time to adjust their running stride in a way that’s comfortable.

Did you also know that the foot strikes the ground on average 9500 times over the course of six miles? I don’t know about you, but for me, running sounds even more painful when you have to do it without shoes. If my feet are going to be pounding pavement 9500 times at an impact force that’s three times my body weight, I’d like the reassurance of a little cushioning underfoot. We pad our bras and toilet paper, why not our footwear?

Shoes don’t make the runner. They aren’t going to turn you into something great. But neither is not wearing shoes. I can guarantee that you’ll see some people sweating it out barefoot in January during the Charleston Marathon, but I will not be one of them. I stand by my shoes, and stand in them proudly.

*The views in this article represent the opinion of the author, and not those of CisternYard News.

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Leah is a managing editor of CisternYard News. She is a senior, majoring in Communication.

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