A friend and I were taking a leisurely stroll across Kite beach and we ran into my bohemian friend who was running barefoot. This got my friend who obviously spends a lot on her branded running shoes to comment that he must be injuring his foot without protective gear. While I had to agree that a beach pathway could be a minefield of broken glass, pebbles, sharp pieces of broken shells, and everything else painful I wondered about the science of it.
The Rarámuri or Tarahumara (as the Spanish called them) are a group of indigenous people of the Americas living in the state of Chihuahua in Mexico. Rarámuri, means “runners on foot” or “those who run fast” and they are known for their tradition of long-distance running that lasted for days. Their style of hunting is to run their prey, usually wild turkey or deers, to death. They tire out their prey into exhaustion. Looking into their running gear might help us understand the anthropological perspective on running.
The Rarámuri tradition of minimalistic footgear is what actually spawned the whole barefoot movement in running. The ideology is a little more complex. For the Rarámuri running is an art form, they do it with joy and as a form of expressing themselves. The focus is to move lightly and efficiently which is easier to achieve when you are light-footed. The barefoot movement is all about going with the natural movement of the foot while running to reduce injury.
Running is a high impact activity and apparently, there is a difference between runners who trained wearing shoes and barefoot runners. Runners who always wore shoes touched the ground heel first as opposed to barefoot runners who did it toes first. A toe first stride tends to have a lower impact and hence less injury. Barefoot runners also lower their center of gravity more decreasing the stress on their legs during a foot strike.
Running shoe manufacturers spend millions on advertising convincing you that this sort of high impact is exactly what their air, gel, and cushion shoes are designed to avoid. There is really no solid evidence to prove that claim. What is proven is that if you run barefoot on grass and train yourself to land toe first you will find that wearing running shoes does indeed help. Changing your stride to get your body to adapt to a lower impact, less stressful foot strike is what will keep the injuries at bay.