The great footwear debate

An American running friend of mine arrived in London this week, and once we had compared notes on our training schedules, (isn’t this where every running conversation starts?), he brought up the thorny issue of footwear. He wanted to know my opinion on the five-finger foot gloves, or the kind of minimalist footwear that back-to-nature running evangelists like Chris McDougall champion.

I had to admit to being skeptical. I have just taken ownership of my first new pair of Brooks Adrenaline trainers of the year. They are astonishingly light, and I had forgotten how comfortable they were. It was almost like have your feet massaged while running. But then the two pairs of running shoes I’ve been using for the last six months are so heavily caked in mud that it is hard to                                                    determine which bit is the actual shoe.

Although I’ve seen more and more people in the UK wearing minimalist footwear, the US market appears to have grown more rapidly. There is a widely held belief that just by changing footwear any kind of runner can go from being a heal-striker (they make it sound like a dirty word, not me), to one who can bounce merrily on their toes, skimming the water like Abebe Bikila, who did run completely barefoot when he won the 1960 Olympic Marathon Gold.

At 80+kg, as opposed to 67kg, in the case of Bikila, it would take me about 6 months to re-train the way I run. Most of us who run marathons, and all but a very small handful of ultra-runners are never going to trouble the record books, and whether it is just about getting around the route of the London Marathon next month, or doing the double London Marathon as I will be doing this year, survival is the key. I defy anyone to think that even Paula Radcliffe would still be bouncing on the tips of her toes after the 8, 9, 10 hours on the road that most ultra-marathons require.

So, I won’t be donning foot-gloves any time soon. If it means being looked down on as a plodder, then so be it. I’ve never won a single race in my life, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.


About Robin Harvie

I have been running marathons for ten years. But when I couldn't around faster than 3 hours 12 minutes, I decided to see how far I could run before I keeled over. Turns out pretty far. In September 2009 I took on the Spartathlon - 152 miles from Athens to Sparta. Non stop. Why We Run is about that journey and about why we run at all.
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