Sunday, February 7, 2010

heel or ball: living in an age of research

The other day, I read that sprinters who run barefoot have fewer foot injuries than those who wear shoes.  Depending on what you mean by 'human', we are at least a couple of million years old.  For the vast majority of that time, I guess we wore nothing or very little on our feet.  I, on the other hand, have been strongly against being barefoot since I was about ten years old.  I once stepped on a dead or dying wasp and got a small sting in my foot.  I stepped on a piece of glass and it cut me while breaking off in the cut.  It took longer to heal that I wanted.  I decided barefoot was not for me.

Then, I read that our balance is probably altered by always wearing shoes and depriving our feet of the chance to read our footing and sense the ground.  I noted that maybe a bit more barefoot should be in my life.  Jenifer and other yoga teachers recommend barefoot practice while doing postures.

What got my attention was the statement in the barefoot sprinter article that the lower injury rate was attributed to the fact that barefoot sprinters meet the ground with the ball of the foot while shod runners first strike with the heel.  Ye gods!  About 20 years ago, I realized in my jogging, I tended to strike first with the ball and I got the idea somewhere that it is better to first land with heel.  I practiced and carefully trained myself to use a heel landing.

Like a lot of other older people, I have been having trouble with my toes.  Especially the ring (4th) toe on the left foot.  It tends to slide under its middle toe neighbor and gets stepped on, which is painful.  I have been using various foam toe separators and moleskin taping to try and keep the little thing out of trouble.  The sprinting article and obvious pleasure of some of my friends who are barefooters got me to thinking about the beach.  I have begun a little practice of walking and running on the sand in the hopes that the unshod freedom and exercise might get my errant toe on the right path.  It's too soon to know if my hope is being borne out but it feels good.

Living as we do in a worldwide research culture, we have to expect reversals and twists in opinion, evidence and conclusions as ideas and experiments constantly come and go. It is a little trying to think you have something straight and then be told to backtrack or take a still different direction but that is life in this era.

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