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If we all did this, the world would be a better, more peaceful and harmonious place, the argument continues. You could unpack this argument in a million ways, but the whole idea seems fairly agreeable, and it got me thinking about running (which is what I’m thinking about for about three hours each day, anyway).
We’re at the most interesting juncture in running shoe design in a long while, maybe even since the invention and popular introduction of running-specific shoes about a century ago (the Foster’s Running Pump). Of course, I’m talking about minimalist footwear, but what makes this moment worth noting isn’t necessarily the new shoes, many of which are just trying to be unobtrusive in the sexiest way possible; it’s that we’re reconsidering our fundamental ideas about running. Instead of just building on accepted ideas (more cushioning is better, pronation leads to injury, etc.), we’re thinking about the way our bodies were intended to move, looking at the science behind it, and then using this knowledge to make better shoes. We’re solving problems with different thinking.
The trouble — the big obstacle — is that when it comes to products, the first priority is profit and not necessarily the well-being of the customer. This doesn’t mean things aren’t changing for the better, but there are setbacks. Just look at the way the terms “organic” and “natural” have been appropriated by companies to sell products that are very much engineered, and by a reasonable person’s standards, artificial. The recent class action lawsuit against PepsiCo’s Naked juices, which accused the company of deceptive marketing, is a perfect example. The case is being settled out of court, though, and while Naked will no longer be labeled “natural”, the company will also admit no wrongdoing.
If it hobbles you to run a few miles, why would you keep doing it?
Several running shoe companies have been targeted in similar lawsuits, with plaintiffs accusing them of making false claims about the positive health benefits of their shoes. In May, Skechers settled a lawsuit over claims that its Shape Up, Resistance Runner and Tone Up models would make the user more fit simply by wearing them. Adidas was sued in 2012 on the grounds that advertisements for the adiPure minimalist shoe (“harness your body’s natural mechanics for optimal training”) were misleading. Two lawsuits, one in California and one in Massachusetts, were filed in 2012 against Vibram over claims that its FiveFingers provide the scientifically corroborated benefits of barefoot running. These cases have not been settled, and if they go to court there will likely be an evidence-based battle over the science behind barefoot running.
I hope one of these cases does eventually end up in court. It’s time for people to start taking responsibility. Settlements are garbage. The rate of overuse injuries among runners is extremely high, and anecdotally, runners and former runners are always mourning damaged knees and creaky joints. Sure, it’s a high-impact sport, but there also may be evidence to suggest that rethinking the way we run could lead to fewer injuries. A study by the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, “Foot Strike and Injury Rates in Endurance Runners: A Retrospective Study“, found that runners who habitually rearfoot strike have higher rates of repetitive stress injury than those who forefoot strike. If running shoe companies are going to make bold claims pegged to science, they owe it to runners to stand behind those claims.
Whatever happens in court, runners also need to take personal responsibility. Running may be biomechanically complex, but it’s a pretty straightforward activity. If it hobbles you to run a few miles, why would you keep doing it? Read some books (look out for our suggestions soon), try different shoes, improve your form, listen to your body, do yoga, lay on golf balls, drink green juices, pray to the running gods — whatever it takes. We could all benefit from taking personal responsibility instead of just pounding the pavement and shifting the blame. And if running companies don’t come around, let’s all just switch to swimming.