Friday, December 03, 2010
And what does this have to do with my feet, and running, and those strange toe shoes I keep going on about, you might ask? Like your feet, the miracle of the aqueduct is the arch. In the case of the aqueduct, many arches. Constructed without any mortar (my son went up close to the stones just to make sure), bearing the weight of all that rock and water, standing through centuries of storms, earthquakes, and human civilization, the arch is the miracle of weight distribution. If I remember my notes from the dusty old Architecture lecture hall in college, the arch distributes weight into both downward and horizontal thrust, supported by the columns below. If you put a wooden form underneath an arch, all of that weight would have to be borne straight down without being distributed sideways. Such an arch just might collapse.
Our feet are no less of a miracle, our arches are perfectly constructed to bear the weight of our bodies through all ranges of motion. Our arches are, as the title of Christopher McDougall's popular book says "Born to Run". So why do we insist on putting "supports" under them, when the very notion of supporting an arch can cause the collapse of such a perfect structure? Ask the modern running shoe industry that question. Oh wait, the barefoot runners already have, and running shoe companies are all quickly backpedaling into "barefoot-like" shoes which will be hitting the market this year.
Barefoot strides are a great way to start gradually introducing barefoot running into your repertoire. When I started barefooting, I would run down to a local well-groomed soccer field in my running shoes. Then I would remove them and run a series of 100 - 200 meter strides up and down the field. I would start slow and build to faster and faster speeds, trying to hold good form. I could immediately tell that my feet ran completely differently without the shoes.
Eventually, I transitioned to the Vibram Five Fingers, or "toe shoes". This let me extend my barefoot runs into areas where my feet might be in danger from rocks, glass, and splinters. Gradually I was able to run longer and longer until a barefoot run of five to eight miles did not bother my feet in the least. I also started wearing them for weight lifting, other indoor exercise, and kickboxing. The perfect structure of the feet I was born with was finally able to support my weight in all of the activities that humans are meant to do.
The next time you're tempted to buy over-engineered running shoes, think about the perfect arches of the Roman aqueduct standing the test of time. Your feet are no less perfect, it's time to let them do their job!
The Ironmom Extra Mile: Some barefoot running inspiration: http://therunningbarefoot.com/ and Barefoot Ted's Adventures . Barefoot Ted makes some terrific looking minimalist running sandals that I'm dying to try out. Next time I go to Seattle I want to visit the factory up there and I'll let you know what it's all about.