Recently I followed my sister on a quest for running shoes. They had to be New Balance brand. She swears by them. We found some in a sports store in a mall.
I’m glad she wasn’t after Nikes, because we all know the history of Nike’s exploitation of workers in the third world, and I would hate to think my sister was supporting that sort of thing. Thankfully I am completely ignorant of who exactly New Balance is exploiting and how, so I didn’t have to worry about it.
She was puzzled by the price difference between two models which otherwise seemed quite similar, except for the colour of the trim. One was $75, the other around a hundred. It’s an interesting question, given that these things only cost a couple of bucks to make, if that. Why does one thing which costs a couple of bucks to produce cost $25 more than another thing which costs a couple of bucks to produce? (Neither resembled another model which had fancy pink pillar heel supports, and cost $109.00 For a conspicuous gimmick, of course, you would expect to pay extra.)
I would like to believe that anyone with a brain knows these things are a rip-off, a colossal consumer con-job. Unfortunately for this conjecture, my sister has a brain, and, as mentioned, swears by New Balance running shoes. And I must confess, I didn’t myself realize the full extent to which these things are a con-job. I was of the opinion that a decent pair of running shoes, though grossly over priced, would still be better than, say, a generic pair of canvas high tops. Sure, generic high tops are a great way to say screw you to footwear corporations, but do they provide adequate shock absorption, and support, and all that stuff that I’ve been programmed to regard as essential for the well-being of my feet? They’re just canvas after all.
As it turns out, cheaper may be better. The Daily Mail website recently published an interesting article titled The painful truth about trainers: Are running shoes a waste of money?, in which they make some astonishing claims.
For example, did you know that injuries increase relative to the price of running shoes? I will have to call my sister’s attention to this fact since, sadly, she opted for the more expensive of the shoes, blithely unaware of the risk. The Mail‘s article cites a 1989 study in which participants in a 15 km race filled out a survey on their experience for the previous year. Turns out 45% of them had suffered an injury, with the likelihood of injury directly related to cost of running shoe: “Runners in shoes that cost more than $95 were more than twice as likely to get hurt as runners in shoes that cost less than $40.”
Now, you might be leery of taking anything published in the Daily Mail as gospel. You may also be familiar with the old adage that correlation does not prove causation, that is, a third factor could be involved. Perhaps those who are most passionate about running are also the ones who spend the most on their foot gear and the most likely to push themselves unreasonably. And it may be that going barefoot is the best solution of all. This more “sciency” take on the subject at sportsci.org concludes that, no matter what the brand or cost or conspicuous gimmicks, running shoes in general contribute to sprains, plantar fasciitis, and “other chronic injuries of the lower limb.”
The gist of all this is that the human foot is more than adequately evolved for long distance running. In fact, it is so well adapted to the task that just about anything you try to do to improve upon it is actually going to impair its performance.
Fortunately, this fact isn’t being lost on the footwear companies either. Nike has produced yet another model of running shoe, this one called the Nike Free. It looks to me like just another running shoe, but the advertising makes explicit reference to evolution and how wonderful our feet are. So even though you’d just be buying another $100 pair of running shoes by a company with a history of gross exploitation of workers, at least the image (and for these folk, image is everything) is on the right track.
If you don’t care about image, you might want to check out the Vibram Five Fingers foot . . . thing. It’s like a cross between a minimalist piece of footwear and a five-toed sock. Looking at ebay, it appears they’re in the trendy footwear hundred dollar zone. (Once again, I claim no knowledge of their third world practices. Hey, for all we know, they’re a fair trade company, right?)
Or if you’re not just interested in liberation of the feet but also liberation from corporations, or perhaps preservation of your wallet, you can get a DIY Minimalist Huarache Running Sandals kit from Barefoot Ted’s Adventures. Heck, even if you order them fully made they’re still less expensive than Vibram or Nike.
Or as spring turns into summer and the weather gets milder, here’s an idea: Why not just shuck your footwear altogether and run free?
(Note, neither the author nor the management are encouraging you to go barefoot. Any injury you suffer from going barefoot including, but not limited to, injury from glass, nails, sharp rocks, discarded needles, bee stings, or infection of said injuries from stepping in feces, are strictly your responsibility.)