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What Nike Doesn’t Want You to Know

January 9, 2010

I may be a “Johnny Come Lately,” but a few days ago I finished reading one of my Christmas gifts, Born to Run by Chris McDougall.  I first talked about this book a few months ago when I did some research on Vibram Five Fingers before buying my pair.  If nothing else, this post will demonstrate what a small world I live in as it links my running to my new shoes and this book and then crosses back over as you will see.

I have had chronic running injuries for many years, especially my arch-enemy – Overpronation.  As an overpronator wearing typical running shoes, my heel comes down first and as my feet roll forward to the front of the foot.  When you are running this occurs many times per minute where my foot rolls inward as well since I have flat feet/no arches.  I purchased orthotics for my motion control shoes this past summer but that took me from one problem to another.  Suddenly I had chronic shin splints, even though I was well past this malady which typically strikes runners when they first take up the sport/hobby.  I’d heard about Vibrams and the barefoot solution, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run, also suffered from many running injuries.  He went from specialist to specialist which eventually prompted him to do some pretty incredible research and travel that enabled him to write this book.  The book explores many characters with colorful personalities and he tells his story in awesome detail with many sidebars about ultra running and related topics like the famous Barefoot Ted.  This book also introduces the best kept secret in ultra running, the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon in Mexico.

About halfway into the book McDougall levels a few cannons pointed right at Nike.  In 1986, the director of Nike Sports Research found that the more cushioned the shoe is, the less protection it offers the foot.  University of Oregon researchers came to the same conclusion in 1988 which can be found in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy.  Expert after expert are documented in this book laying claim that barefoot running is far superior to running with cushioned shoes.  The more natural the better.  Nike reps even learned this the hard way when they visited a college track team they sponsor at Stanford.  They learned the team was seeing improvements when running barefoot versus wearing their Nikes.  This prompted Nike (who makes $17 bilion in shoe sales each year) to eventually create what we now know as the Nike Free.  Do you recall their initial slogan?  “Run Barefoot.”

Is it possible Nike and other manufacturers were aware all along that cushioned shoes create problems and that is why the models switch up each year promising more cushioning and support?  We may never know that answer, but McDougall claims they’ve known pieces of that reality for the past 20 years.

When the Great Race in Copper Canyon, portrayed in this book, pits American runners against the Tarahumara, some unique names popped up including a sponsor by the name of Tony Post.  Who’s Tony Post?  🙂  Tony is the CEO of Vibram (Five Fingers).  Tony had also sponsored the Tarahumara the first time they appeared in an American race, the Leadville Trail 100.  The curiousity about this “tribe” is revealed over and over and the secret to their skills are also detailed in this book.

Is Nike alone in this shoe conspiracy, if you will?  Hardly.  But through their recognition of barefoot running and the creation of Free along with the folks at Vibram, let’s hope the message gets out that barefoot running (or as close to it) can solve many injuries that plague runners.  If you’re not convinced this is the route to take just yet, pick up a copy of Born to Run and do some research yourself as I will continue to do.  I have not put my Vibram’s to the test as much as I’d like due to the weather we experience in South Dakota.  But as I progress, I’ll let you know how it goes.  Other overpronators, like my buddy blogger, Fitbomb, has reported no problems in his runs yet as we correspond from time to time.  Let’s hope this is indeed the solution we all seek.

Whether a runner or a lover of great non-fiction, this is a great story that is well written, engaging and well researched.  Will his next book espouse the benefits of running naked?

What do you think?  Is running barefoot (or close to it) a solution for you?  Own a pair of Vibrams or Nike Frees and care to comment?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2010 8:28 am

    I’ve always run in very low profile shoes, whether it be cross country spikes or track shoes. It was always kind of odd, too, I am a big guy 6’6 175 and people would always say ‘your going to cause yourself injury unless you wear these super bulky running shoes.’ I’ve also been told it’s ‘bad’ to not heel strike since I naturally am a midfoot striker. Running in vibrams seems awesome, but I am too addicted to my track shoes. Have you heard of the POSE method of running?

    • January 11, 2010 9:10 am

      Yes, POSE and Chi running methods are both supposed to be used in the barefoot style of running. Heel to toe doesn’t work in that style.

  2. November 18, 2010 5:58 am

    you can always trust those high tech running shoes developed by adidas or nike, they are expensive but they are very good “-;

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