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Official Footwear of the Boston Marathon 2016 – The Human Foot

By Staff | Apr 22, 2016

Monday I ran my 22nd Boston Marathon and as a 49yo veteran of this 120 year old event the goal now is fun, sharing the experience with colleagues and friends, and advance the science of how we have evolved to run. Every year there are new special “Boston Edition” shoes from every manufacturer. So this year I choose to highlight the amazing human foot which is the real star of the show.

The weekend started with colleagues Dr. Dan Lieberman of Harvard and Chris McDougall (Author of Born to Run) hosting a seminar titled “Native American Running: Culture, Health, Sport” to explore the history and importance of Native American running traditions, present efforts to support and encourage running in Native American communities today and promote the many benefits of running.

At this seminar was arguably the best trail runner ever to walk the planet but known to only a few, Arnulfo Quimare of the Copper Canyon in Mexico. As documented in the book and soon to be movie “Born to Run,” American trail running legend Scott Jurek was no match for Arnulfo on his home course. Arnulfo was here on a rare visit to America to share his wisdom at the seminar and run the Boston Marathon.

Arnulfo explained through a chain of two translators that he never “trained”, rarely even “ran” as most of his activity is a mix of running and walking to get to places, and had no idea the distances he covered. He and other Native America runners shared their thoughts on running:

* Running is part of what makes us human

* Running really does make people better humans and the world a better place

* Running fosters community

* Running makes us better physically, mentally and spiritually

Beyond his gentle spirit, one of the most amazing things I observed in Arnulfo was the strength and development of his feet. This picture shows the robust feet of Arnulfo next to mine and friend Jared Matlick in our versions of the native running sandals. Even though I have run thousands of miles barefoot over the last five years, my feet were like wimpy kids going into the Olympic gym. Arnulfo has never worn anything on his feet other than the trekking sandals and has never suffered any injury to his feet.

In the many regions of the world, especially as you go further away from the cities, natives such as the Tarahumara prefer doing their daily chores barefoot, such as going to school, farms, and hunting. In remote regions, there are communities for whom barefoot dominates their footwear style. Humans have developed efficient running techniques through millions of years of evolutionary processes. However, these techniques were mastered by humans running barefoot or by wearing minimal footwear as modern running shoes were only developed in the second half of the 20th century. Most of the research in running has examined habitually shoed runners and has ignored barefoot conditions even though they have influenced the way modern humans run. Research is going on now to study the movement patterns of unshod populations.

Better understanding the biomechanics of barefoot running , human locomotion, and injury prevention will offer invaluable information concerning the design and function of modern running shoes. Each time your foot strikes the ground on a run, your body does magic- it stores and releases free energy from the arch in your foot. A recent study published in Scientific Reports examined the role of the human arch while running. The authors discovered that blocking arch compression by even a small amount with an arch supporting device causes energy efficiency during a run to decrease.

As part of this year’s Boston Marathon I volunteered for a research study led by leading running researcher Dr. Irene Davis of Harvard. Dr. Davis also played a starring role in “Born to Run” by helping fix Chris McDougall’s foot.

My role in the study was to race the marathon in a pure minimal shoe (no cushion at all) and to wear a high tech accelometer on my ankle to measure impact forces and loading rates. I chose my trusty Vibram Five Fingers which we have carried in our store Two Rivers Treads since our opening 6 years ago and still the go to shoe for people really wanting to get their foot strong. One hypothesis is you need to reduce ALL cushion to really get people to feel the ground and use their feet as the springs they were designed to be. This means running barefoot or at the most a cushionless tire tread such as Arnulfo’s sandals or the Five Fingers. The study involved 3 groups- shoes with no cushion like mine, some with a little cushion, and the traditional highly cushioned.

The run and experiment went well. I felt strong and indeed springy the whole race and finished in 2 hours 57 minutes at age 49 on a warm day for April. It is always curious to hear the runner comments when they see you are about to embark on 26 hard road miles without cushion. “Are you really going to run the marathon in those.no way”. “Aren’t you worried you are going to hurt yourself”. I smile and become more inspired to run well and prove the principle of the perfect human foot design. The data should become available in a month or two but as an experiment of 1 my body felt fine the day after the race so no damage done and I seemed to be walking through the airport with more spring in my step than most.