Friday, 11 November 2011

Run like Hobbits

To quote the oft-quoted and late futurist Marshall MacLuhan: "We shape our tools, therefter our tools shape us". Cushioned running shoes, which appeared around the seventies during the first "jogging" boom, have shaped how we run and perceive podiatric health today. Generations of runners have been ingrained - by shoe companies and their dogmatic marketing - with the notion that we need to run on heavy padding or our feet (as well as knees, hips, back and other related joints) will get eventually get hurt. I have accepted that "truism" unthinkingly too. To cope with shooting knee pain that has dogged me the last few years, I kept buying more protective running shoes - but the pain lingered. I even contemplated knee surgery until something surprising happened recently - in the form of a pair of Vibram Fivefingers Bikila, which has nearly no underfoot padding, individual toepods, and look like they will hurt my feet and knees even more. But since I started running in them three months ago, my aching knees actually started to improve. I also found myself able to run at a faster same-effort pace and felt a new sense of nimbleness. I can't believe it! I look like a Hobbit wearing them and am loving it. Sure, I was aware of the minimalist footwear and barefoot running movements that have sprouted in the past few years. For those who aren't, read Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run, which does a convincing job explaining why floppy shoes like the Fivefingers are a good thing. But those shoes (slippers?) just look so flimsy that I stayed unconvinced until a friend's experience convinced me to take the plunge. So here I am, three or so months on, feeling like a runner with a second wind and a new lease on both my knees. I have also felt new aches and pains caused by underused muscles in my legs and feet being rudely awakened. But that seems like a good thing.