August 21 2014

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It’s Like Running Barefoot, But Better


I’m hesitant to call myself a “runner.” Best-case scenario, I put running shoes to pavement two times a week, but I’ve been doing so since I was at least 13. I never trained in cross country; instead, I used jogging as a conditioning technique for more important things—namely varsity soccer and basketball. Post-high school, it became my only source of exercise (as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’m not big on classes). I’ve had running routes everywhere I’ve ever called home, from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv to St. Louis, and, of course, New York, where I’ve used Brooklyn’s Prospect Park as my own personal track for the better part of six years. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, the hard pavement coupled with a lack of proper training has led to sore knees and shin splints.

According to biomechanics expert Lee Saxby, it could be my shoes that are to blame. “We were built to run barefoot,” Saxby told me as I ran for him on a treadmill at Chelsea Piers last week while a video camera documented my poor form. (Side note: Watching yourself actively involved in sport is enough to give you a small complex.) The primitive approach to running, as it happens, is catching on. It started with a paper from Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman that explored the mechanics of different kinds of foot strikes in runners, ultimately suggesting that barefoot running reduces the impact on feet, thus leading to less injury. Most runners have a tendency to land hard on their heels—which are typically cushioned by souped-up shoes designed to absorb the impact. When you run barefoot, on the other hand, your tendency is to land on the balls of your feet, which minimizes the shock waves from the ground resonating through the rest of your body. Tribes of barefoot runners have been popping up across the country—as has minimally engineered footwear to keep up with the trend.

Enter Terra Plana’s new EVO running shoe, an eco-friendly, 100 percent vegan design that gives you the feeling of running barefoot while protecting you from “urban elements” like glass, dirt, rocky asphalt, and rogue syringes via a thin rubber sole. The new shoes sold out immediately upon launching earlier this year, but a new shipment was back in stores as of last week. “It’s a posture issue as well,” Saxby told me as he put me into a pair of EVOs to do an “after” video on the treadmill. He’s a big believer in a variation on the Pose Method, which includes three different squat exercises used to properly condition your body for an upright, head-back, feet-underneath-your-frame running stance. “I think Pilates teachers would really make the best running coaches,” Saxby said as he demonstrated the “Hunter Gatherer,” an elbows-on-knees position that forces your shoulders straight, your chin pointed upward. It’s a novel concept seeing as how most Pilates followers abhor cardio and the majority of runners, myself included, dislike the slow motions of Pilates. But it’d be an uphill battle worth waging. While my after video was equally painful to view (never watch yourself sprinting in slow motion; every part of your body jiggles), it was amazing to see the difference Saxby’s brief lesson had made.

Photo: Courtesy of Terra Plana

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