First, a very big tip of the running cap to Malvina Reynolds for her song, "Little Boxes." Those of you who have seen the Showtime series, Weeds, know this little song:
"Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky; little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same. There's a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one, and they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same."
I have a copy of Bill Squires' "Fast Tracks: A History of Distance Running Since 884 BC," and recently looked back at the shoes of distance runners of the late 19th and early 20th century. To look at the overwhelming majority of the pedestrians it's simple to understand why running might be looked upon as a frivolous pursuit. Most of the photos and lithographs show them in lightweight leather shoes or sneakers.
And when I talk sneakers, I'm not talking about the stuff I wore playing indoor volleyball in the mid-1990s, but Keds and Chuck Taylors, the shoes I played in as a youngster up until my first pair of tennies issued to me in the Air Force in 1980. Since running tracks were cinder or dirt in those days I bet there wasn't much of a demand for cushioned shoes. And I can guess most folks didn't do a lot of distance running because the shoes weren't all that supportive for their feet. My loving bride ran the Crescent City Classic ten-kilometer road race in a pair of hot pink Chuck Taylors. I bought that pair because they looked good with the costume she was wearing, not thinking she would get fed up with walking and decide to run the last two miles. Ten years later, she swears she'll never pull that sort of stunt ever again.
And the people in the houses all went to the university, where they were put in boxes and they came out all the same. And there's doctors and lawyers, and business executives, and they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.
Frank Shorter's Olympic marathon victory in 1972 is heralded as the advent of the first running boom, which was aided by the mass-marketing of trainers by shoe manufacturers like adidas, Onitsuka (now Asics) and Nike. I had no clue whether the shoes I had for track my senior year in high school, a pair of Sears-Roebuck-branded joggers (I would have gladly traded, along with my step-mother, for a pair of adidas), were harmful to my feet. At least I was able to protect my tootsies from the myriad of thorns and stones I encountered on my training runs.
Fast-forward a quarter-century and technology has advanced to the point where our shoes can almost talk to us. Nike gave us air. Asics gave us gel. Saucony gave us grid. And we gave more of our hard-earned dough for more of their technology. Ever see a pair of shoes which looked so damned ugly you knew they were not meant for you? I have three words: Asics Gel Kinsei.
And they all play on the golf course and drink their martinis dry, and they all have pretty children, and the children go to school, and the children go to summer camp and then to the university, where they are put in boxes and they come out all the same.
The great monolith Nike waited until after the death of Bill Bowerman. Visionary, tinkerer, and curmudgeon, Bowerman eventually criticized his own initial creation and Nike's tendency to add too much to the shoe over time...for no other reason than to make money off the running public. Too much money for too much needless technology. Much to their horror, Nike also learned some their sponsored athletes (particularly under coach Vin Lanana) were training barefoot. How can you make money off the bare foot? Looks like a lot of the shoe manufacturers went back to making shoes which either were light and minimally-supportive like racing flats, or like reinforced socks.
You would think the "barefoot running" purists would rejoice at the market slowly turning back toward lightweight, minimally-supportive, minimally-cushioned shoes as a method of strengthening the lower extremities of runners while protecting from the most hazardous aspects of modern outdoor running. But no.
And the boys go into business and marry and raise a family in boxes made of ticky tacky and they all look just the same. There's a green one and a pink one, and a blue one and a yellow one, and they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.
I thought I had seen parochialism and dogmatism in the world of training plans and coaching philosophies. The "barefoot" community makes almost any other pluralistic group seem, well, pluralist. Case in point: I purchased a pair of Fila Skele-Toes, partly because I wanted to try out a pair of "barefoot" shoes (I'm not certain what one would consider a foot covering for the "barefoot" running enthusiast, so "shoes" will have to do.), and partly because I did not want to spend the money on a more-expensive pair of Vibrams. To look at the comparison reviews, one would think they had inadvertently landed on the forum of "The Nation" or "The American Spectator".
The Fila Skele-Toes are definitely not as flexible in the sole area as the Vibrams. There are also versions of the Fila with soles which look much like the Nike Free, with a little more firmness. But, the Filas have less cushion than my K-Swiss K-Ona triathlon running shoes (a borderline minimalist shoe) and are narrower in the footbed, so it's a good step in the direction of a completely barefoot walking experience. Yes, I said walking. I have no intention to move in the general direction of barefoot running. I want to see if a minimalist shoe/modality enables me to develop enough lower extremity strength to protect the achilles tendons.
And if it works, I could care less what the Vibram/barefoot purists have to say.
Because we all don't have to be the same.