First off – I’ve been fighting with plantar fasciitis for a while, now. Like years, off and on. Years ago I treated with off the shelf orthotics (Superfeet) with relative success. However, for the last year and a half or so – and really the last 8 months – I’ve been transitioning to barefoot and barefoot analogue shoes – both vibram five fingers and Merrell’s ‘Glove’ line. (Full disclosure – I prefer the Merrell’s and they have become my everyday goto shoes.) Continue reading
Tonight my brother in law and I took a quick hike up to Mason Lake in the Cascades. We had both taken off a little early from work so we could make the whole trip without the need for flashlights. As it was, it worked out just perfectly. Continue reading
I got done with work this afternoon and recalled that I was flying solo – my wife and the boy were away. Rather than head out to see a movie or sitting on the couch playing video games until my eyes rotted out, I decided that it would be a fun evening event to go for a hike instead. In the greater Seattle area we have ample hiking trails within a stones throw from most metropolitan areas. I decided the best one to tackle today was Rattlesnake ledge – it was already 6 PM and the hike is a good 4 miles.
This past weekend, my wife and I finally tracked down the elusive Merrell “Glove” line at a small store called “Born To Run” in downtown Bellevue. They had the entire mens line, and only the ‘PowerGlove’ was missing from the women’s line… but I don’t know how much of a loss it really was. It was my least favorite of the line on paper.
However, we saw the rest of the lineup, and proceeded to try on most of the rest of the lineup. I tried on the Trail Glove and the True Glove. My wife tried on the Pace Glove and the Pure Glove. We ended up with three different pairs: the Trail Glove, the Pace Glove and the Pure Glove (I’m sure some marketing guy somewhere is cackling in delight because all the Gloves marketed to men begin with a “T” while all the women’s marketed shoes begin with the letter “P”). Sarah loved both the Pace and the Pure initially, because they felt comfortable, natural and fit her feet near perfectly. I walked away with the Trail Glove, because I felt like the toe box felt larger than the True Glove. I did not try on the Tough Glove, but probably will at some point in the near future.
Long story short, I love these shoes. They fit well, are crazy comfortable, and don’t make me feel like everyone is staring at my toed shoes (while they might be a good conversation starter, I don’t know how much the ladies dig ’em. Some are all for it, while the majority just think you’re strange and a little gross. You know, make you feel like you’re in 5th grade again. Fantastic times, really). I can tell there is a tiny bit of padding there, but not so much that it gets in the way of me feeling the ground (comparing them to my ASICS is like comparing a 1970’s suburban to a Koenigsegg sports car – there really is no viable comparison). They in no way hindered my ability to run on the middle of my foot (which is how you’re supposed to run – see example video below), nor did they feel too heavy or too big or anything like that. Overall, it was a great first experience. I ran two 800 meter runs over uneven blacktop surfaces – some uphill, some downhill. My feet and knees feel better now than if I had run in a pair of marshmallows (which I had done just last Friday, so the experience was fresh in my memory).
I picked them up Saturday and just wore them around everywhere I went. They’re great because they hold the middle of my foot and my heel snugly while letting my toes have the room they need to do their thing.
So, long story short, I’ve only had them for two whole days now, have gotten a ton of complements on them, spread the word a little bit, and my feet have never felt so good. If you’re contemplating whether or not to grab a pair of these, don’t hesitate – do it. You’ll thank me later.
The following video explains how to prepare your body for the rigors of running on your anatomy, as opposed to running on a cushion of marshmallow.
I have a confession to make.
I have flat feet.
For as long as I can remember, people have been telling me that I have flat feet, or that I over-pronate, or that my arches fall when I stand on them.
And they were right in their diagnoses. However, I am beginning to think they were wrong in their prescription.
Their prescription, every one, was that flat feet were something you lived with, and used orthotics to help reduce the pain associated with fallen arches, or at least to reduce the effect of the fallen arches.
Studies show it doesn’t work, at least not well, and that there’s no hard and fast way for prescribing orthotics… Which indicates (to me) that we’re dealing with snake oil, being sold a bill of goods. But charlatans sell snake oil for the same reason people sell orthotics – lots of people have some sort of malaise (or sore feet, in the case of orthotics) and are willing to spend a sum of their hard earned money on the promise of improved health. And while SOMETIMES the orthotic ‘cures’ the pain (treats and/or masks the symptoms), it doesn’t solve the problem. As an orthotics wearer, you become dependent on it, and without it, you are miserable.
So I’ve decided that this is not something I want. I’ve never been formally fitted for orthotics (custom orthotics range between 100 and 200 USD, typically), I’ve spent my fair share of dollars on different over the counter orthotics, with varying degrees of success (read: pain relief). Superfeet even shrunk my feet (by seemingly improving my arch, as improbable as that seems).
The problem with orthotics, as I see it, as it gives your body a crutch – something to be lazy on. And every body in the world is content to be lazy if at all possible. It’s a natural way to conserve energy, and from a physiological standpoint it makes perfect sense.
So, after recently hearing all about my arches and how low they are, I’ve decided to do something about it.
I’ve had my Vibram Five Fingers for at least a year, now, and I’ve worn them off and on. I’ve never been much of a runner, so I’ve never really worked myself up to running in them, but I love them. I think they feel good, fit well, and make it so I can
walk around with a fairly barefoot feeling wherever I go. So I decided to start wearing them daily, to see if what Dr. Nirenberg says is true.
What I did not do was take a ‘before’ stamp of my footprint. But I have started doing some mild running in my Vibrams – keeping the distances under an 1/8th of a mile at a time for now (doing intervals of 200m between 5 and 8 times.
But I will be sure to take a 2 month stamp, and a 4 month stamp. Hopefully I will be able to see a marked change in the pattern of my foot, as well as a well-defined arch.
What about everyone else
? Do you have any experiences with (re)training your feet and the (re)introduction of an arch due to barefoot running or any other method? I know there’s some surgical procedure out there right now that involves some sort of a metal tube inserted into the ankle, but that kind of seems like a last resort… Like I might consider it… after exhausting any other ideas that are less invasive.
And besides, it seems like a pretty hardcore way to correct something that may not even be the problem it’s made out to be.
What are your thoughts?
Thousands of years ago, men, women, and children of all social strata were minimally or not at all shod. A typical example of a primitive ‘shoe’ would consist of a strip of leather to protect the bottom of the foot and a strap to keep the leather ‘tied’ to the foot. This was called a Huarache, and there are still tribes (and modern runners) that wear them on a regular basis. They were simple, cheap, and effective.
As ‘civilization’ progressed, different cultures developed different styles of shoe, ranging from simple wooden clogs to silken slippers placed on women’s feet to prevent them from growing correctly at all. Every single shoe had a problem – it took the foot out of the equation of walking.
An Amazing Machine
The human foot is an amazing machine. A fully grown adult will have 26 bones, 33 joints, and dozens of ligaments, tendons, and muscles. They are also contain thousands of nerve endings. All this complexity exists for one thing – to allow a human to walk – or run – from point “A” to “B” to “C”. It is truly an amazing machine, and to have two of them strapped to the lower half of your body is really a stroke of luck, because they are meant to be used in pairs. Of course, they can be used singly, but they “work” together.
The basic idea is this:
- the muscles move the foot into place on the ground.
- the nerves send information to the brain, so the brain can make decisions based on those inputs about how the muscles will react.
- the muscles react according to the brains commands, contracting and relaxing as instructed.
- the muscles, which are attached to the bones via ligaments pull the bones. The tendons help to keep the bones aligned.
- the joints articulate in such a way to keep the foot supported, other joints protected, and the body protected and upright.
A pretty simple process, on paper. Now, enter shoes.
How we went wrong
The first shoes were little more than leather wrappings around the foot. As society, particularly European society, evolved, so did shoes. They became boots which constrained the foot, often fitting poorly with either too much or too little room. Toes changed from blunt boxes to ‘elegant’ points and became quite the symbol of style and affluence. Most shoes were not designed specifically for your left or right foot, but were rather uni-fit shoes, which would just go on whichever foot you pulled them onto.
Your foot’s nerves, ligaments, bones, and muscles were given no consideration at all. And why should they? The need to run, jump, and be limber and nimble was something from a fanciful past where one had to chase live animals for food, or run from predators. It was barbaric. Shoes which did not cater to the gymnastic past of our predecessors were a symbol of how far societies had come. There was nothing primal to fear, any more, so why bother keeping your body, mind, and nervous system tuned up for such an endeavor? Better to keep it tuned for enjoying music, or food, or fine clothing.
And that’s pretty much the way it stayed until societies advanced enough that we could begin making rubbers, and plastics, and machines that could build a reliable product over and over and over again. Which is exactly what happened. Shoes were growing up, baby, and they were softer, more supple, and more colorful than ever! We could make all kinds of different shoes for different activities, with different levels of cushion and heel drop, different uppers and colors and fabrics and wizzbangery. Our feet were just getting more and more awesome with every iteration.
But they really weren’t.
The shoes, with their arch supporting, torsion controlled lumps and ridges do not t actually help our feet at all. They effectively freeze many of the muscles and joints into a fixed place within the shoe. Because of this, the nerves send out alarms to the brain, to let the brain know that something is going on with the foot. The brain knows that there’s nothing exactly wrong, and eventually just turns off the song and dance offered up by the nerves, kind of the way it tunes out the car alarm that is always going off in the parking lot. The modern shoe turns the foot into one large monolithic slab, causes our bodies to strike our heels on the ground when we walk and run, and just generally destroys our gait. The shoe is designed to mitigate this – through gels, air, and multi-desnsity foams – and make your foot feel as though it is moving atop a fluffy cloud of goo.
And it gets worse
It appears as though the more sophisticated shoes get – offering increased arch support, stability, etc – the more the foot can relax and get lazy. This leads to all kinds of issues – foot and ankle injuries such as sprained tendon, plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, pulled muscles, and damaged and degraded joints. The foot, allowed by the shoe to be lax, also loses its natural arch.
Arches are a girl’s best friend (and you thought it was diamonds)
The body is full of arches. There are arches in the spine, legs, and, yes, feet, that help reduce shock from activity, including walking, running, and jumping. Without our arches, we are more prone to injury, and can even face aggravated injury from the lack of our body’s natural shock absorption. For instance, an incorrectly aligned spine can actually increase the force of an accident instead of dissipate the force. When you lose an arch, you potentially face increased pain and risk of injury. So it’s important to keep all your arches healthy.
But I’ve already lost my foot arches. Is all hope lost?
Modern medical treatment of fallen arches and other foot issues is through the use of orthotics. However, recent studies into the somewhat mysterious field of orthotics reveal one thing – that they don’t know what in the hell they are talking about. There seems to be little science and more art, guesstimation, and downright dumb luck in finding a good orthotic. Good thing, too, because these babies aren’t always cheap. The orthotics industry makes millions upon millions of dollars every year in the US. From Dr. Scholl’s to Superfeet to custom orthotics, many living in the US turn to orthotics to offer some relief to their feet. But adding something else, it seems, is not what the foot needs at all.
Another recent study by Dr. Nirenberg found that increasing barefoot or barefoot-like activities led to an increase and return of the natural foot arch. Bolstering this study is many anecdotal stories across the western world describing how barefoot activies led to a return of the foot’s natural arch and improved function as well as reduced pain levels and injury risks.
So what are you waiting for?
Get out there and go barefoot!
Not ready to jump in whole-hog? No problem. There are lots of shoes out there designed to help you make the transition.