Is there a best way to run?

Posted by | Posted in Barefoot Running | Posted on 16-10-2012

The barefoot running boom has heated up a debate about the best way to run.

Barefoot? Shoes? Barefoot shoes?

Midfoot strike, heel strike, forefoot strike?

In today’s New York Times Online, Gina Kolata (whose writing and name I adore) goes after this question.

Really, you can stop reading after the first sentence of the 2nd paragraph… and since that’s the most important sentence, I’ll just quote it here:

Most of the scientific research is just inadequate to answer these questions

The reasons that the research is inadequate are two-fold:

  1. Not enough research to explore the various aspects of the question
  2. Poorly designed research

I can’t say much about #1 other than to hope that more research is done. But if more research is done poorly, then what’s the point.

So what makes some of the running research, especially the studies that examine barefoot running, so poor? A number of factors:

  1. Bad cohort (the people in the study). Many of the studies solicit “barefoot runners” who’ve never actually run with bare feet. They may have spent some time in Vibram Fivefingers or, worse, in Nike Free… but wearing those is not the same as being barefoot (as many readers of this blog can attest). Many of the studies have too few runners. Many of the studies have runners that are, say, between the ages of 18-22 and on the college cross-country team (they’re not typical runners). And if the number of runners in the test is small enough, it may be hard to extrapolate from their results.
  2. Missing factors. Many of the studies will look at one aspect of gait and ignore many others, and then try to conclude something about running mechanics. Rodger Kram’s recent study on cushioning, for example, doesn’t look at foot placement (overstriding or not), doesn’t consider weight (which can effect the value of cushioning), type of cushioning, etc. I’m not saying that it’s even possible to design a study that accounts for all these factors, but when you isolate things  too much, it’s hard to draw a useful conclusion… though everyone around you will draw it and then fight to the death defending or attacking it.
  3. Arbitrary variables. Many studies are done with runners on treadmills running at a fixed pace. The obvious question: is running on a treadmill identical to running on a track? Not in my experience. Also, is, say, 5 minute/mile pace my usual pace? We know that if you increase your cadence without increasing your speed, you can reduce force on your body and decrease the amount of time you spend on the ground… so by controlling one variable, you could be affecting the results of the study.

Suffice it to say, I’m always glad when the media talk about running, and barefoot running in particular. But I find it unsatisfying when they merely regurgitate the “results” of a study without telling the reader whether the study is worth considering in the first place.

Then there’s the straw man problem, which is when you make up a person (complete with opinions) and then argue with that fictional person. There’s a lot of that going on. Many barefoot writers (including myself, Pete Larson, Bill Katovsky, Mark Cucuzzella) have noticed that individual differences may be more important than “one right way” to do things, and that it’s hard to get useful data by looking at genetic freaks (like Olympians). Yet the media loves to present these studies, and studies of studies, as if there’s no reasonable thinking on either side of the fence. Not true.

Again, as the article said up top: Most of the scientific research is just inadequate to answer these questions. Let’s hope that changes.

Barefoot Running – The Movie!

Posted by | Posted in Barefoot Running | Posted on 03-10-2012

Our friends Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee have just released an incredibly ambitious project:

Barefoot Running – The Movie

Shot in Hawaii, the footage is STUNNING (it’ll make you want to run, run barefoot, run barefoot in Hawaii, or just move to Hawaii). I’m telling you, some of the shots in this movie make it feel like you ARE running around Hawaii, which as the Fall descends on Colorado, is quite a pleasant feeling.

And it’s practically everything Michael and Jessie know, and have been teaching, about barefoot running for the last 3+ years. I say “practically” because the section of footwear is notoriously lacking in a mention of us ;-) (or of huaraches, in general).

I asked Michael about this. He said, “When we got to that section of the video, it was just me and the director and one camera… and we didn’t have any of our sample footwear — including Xero Shoes — on the island. And we had just a few hours to get that section done!”

Apology accepted ;-)

He did, though, let me know that huaraches are featured in their upcoming book, Barefoot Walking (due out early 2013).

BTW, if you don’t know, Michael and Jessie were my introduction to running without shoes… and Michael’s comment that if I built a website for what was at the time a sandal-making hobby he would include us in his upcoming book… well, that was the beginning of Invisible Shoes (now Xero Shoes).

Congrats on an impressive and heartfelt project, M & J… and thanks for inspiring what has become the most satisfying business I can imagine.

“Barefoot Sandal” Start-up Hires Former Crocs Exec

Posted by | Posted in Barefoot Running Shoes, Barefoot Sandals | Posted on 02-10-2012

Dennis Driscoll joins Xero Shoes“Barefoot Sandal” Start-up Xero Shoes Brings On Former Crocs Exec and Avia Co-founder

Boulder, CO, October 2, 2012 – Dennis Driscoll, a 35-year footwear industry veteran who co-founded Avia Footwear and most recently worked as Global Design Director for Crocs, has joined Boulder-based barefoot running shoe start-up, Feel The World, Inc., the makers of Xero Shoes • Original Barefootware.

Driscoll’s roll at the bestselling “barefoot sandal” manufacturer is Chief Development Officer. Asked what attracted him to the product, he answers, “Xero Shoes are genuine, legitimate. We don’t have to create ways to differentiate our product, because it is actually different.”

Regarding the company, and its co-founders, Steven Sashen and wife Lena Phoenix, Driscoll adds, “They are a smart team who’ve already proven themselves and their business. I like that my experience with all aspects of the footwear business can have a big impact here.”

Sashen and Phoenix reciprocate the admiration. “It’s highly unusual for someone of Dennis’s skills and caliber to work for a company at our stage. We’re thrilled to have Dennis help take our product, and our company, to the levels we know they can attain.”

Dennis Driscoll started in the footwear business in 1978 with Osaga Athletic Footwear as the Director of Product Development. In 1981 he co-founded Avia Athletic Footwear as the VP of Product. Ten years later Dennis joined Wilson Sporting Goods as the Global Business Unit Director of Footwear. After a 7-year stint at Converse in senior product roles, Driscoll took a position at Doc Martens Footwear and moved to London as the Global Director of Product. In 2010, he went to work for Crocs as Global Design Director where he had a fourteen member design team in the US office and design centers in Padova, Italy and Tokyo, Japan


Feel The World, Inc. of Boulder, CO, manufactures Xero Shoes®,  a high-tech upgrade on the traditional huaraches running sandal of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico. Durable, stylish and affordable — Xero Shoes supply the fun and benefits of being barefoot, but with a layer of protection.  Feel The World, Inc. launched in December 2009. To date, over 25,000 customers, ages 1 to 91, in more than 73 countries wear Xero Shoes for walking, hiking, yoga and gym-going, Crossfit, kayaking, jogging, and even running hundred-mile ultra marathons.