The world’s best shoes

2014-01-11 00:00

OVER three decades of running has convinced me that over 90% of us have already been gifted with almost ideal running implements: our feet and legs.

They are biomechanical wonders that come with springs, a measure of cushioning and absorption plus a myriad of other aspects we simply take for granted.

I am not, however, suggesting for one moment that we should all be running barefoot or that indeed we are capable of such extremes in the current day and age. What I’m saying is that we have been given the tools for adopting the natural stride and motion we evolved to use.

The environment we live in has changed much faster than evolution has kept pace with, which means we no longer roam the veld or spend our days squatting, walking, or loping in search of food. The walking and running surfaces have hardened over the past 2 000 years, not to mention glass, cigarette ends and other such dangers. In short, our feet do indeed need both protection and an increased level of cushioning!

The relevance of shoes cannot be questioned, but these should address the weaknesses of the foot and enhance, or at least compliment, the strengths of our biomechanically wonderful feet.

Listen to the noise created by running in rigid shoes and compare that with the sound of the runner who lands on the ball of their foot with a flexible shoe. The sound gives the answer as to which is more efficient.

The heel was introduced to cushion the blow of walking on the hard surfaces we introduced with flat rock roads 3 000 years ago and now sees us spending the majority of our time on hard tiles and concrete.

South Africans should remember that 10 000 runners completed the Comrades in nothing but crepe-soled Bata takkies until the late 1970s. These had virtually no heels, little cushioning and were highly flexible. The initial specialist running shoes were little different but offered a slight heel of five to 10 mm, and more cushioning under the forefoot.

So where did the rigid high heeled “now-traditional” shoe come from?

The mass popularity of fitness led to the jogging and power-walking era of recent years and particularly in the U.S. where the average height and weight far exceeds that of South Africans. Jogging is a cross between running and walking. The mass market dynamics have driven the “running” market.

Recent years have brought a change with more people acknowledging the truth in being “Born to Run”. Virtually every manufacturer is following suit with various degrees of retro designs to real running shoes.

Therein lies a danger.

Transitions need to be taken slowly. Done correctly you will see a fairly surprising and inspiring boost in performance, but this may take months or a year to achieve.

Again remember it’s not about becoming a barefoot runner. It’s about regaining the inherent natural style that each of us was born to.

There is never a better time to improve than now!

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