It doesn’t happen often but sometimes – on rare occasions – a single action can make both sides of opposing viewpoints happy. Fortunately this happened to me this week. With a single, simple act I’ve improved my life as well as others. What did I do? I deleted the Shoe Forum from my Firefox bookmarks. I typically don’t hang out in the Shoe Forum, but a few weeks back someone reported there was a debate going on over there about orthotics. Being one who not only used to wear orthotics but also has strong feelings about them I trotted on over there to check out what was going on. I added my $.02 (I didn’t raise a ruckus – like certain other folks I know ) and kept going back because I enjoyed the topics and commentary. Over time, however, I started seeing comments that got me riled up. “I’m sorry – no matter what anyone says no amount of strengthening will help my feet.” “You absolutely shouldn’t run in minimalist shoes. You’ll ruin your feet, ankles and knees.” “People who say you should run in neutral shoes are full of crap.” On more than one occasion, upon having a half-written posting, I gave up and threw the text in the trash. They weren’t looking for the kind of input I was about to provide. I was in the Shoe Forum. If someone is there they’re asking for advice in the context of shoes - it’s not particularly polite to jump in and talk about minimalist and barefoot topics. If they wanted non-shoe input they’d have trotted over to the Barefoot Forum.
I was heading over there out of habit. The questions, though, were these: Was it doing me any good? Was I enjoying it? Or was it simply making my blood boil? I’m not out to convince shod runners to take off their shoes. What I dislike, be it in politics or running or business or whatever is closed mindedness. It drives me crazy when people see things as totally black or white. I see the world in shades of gray. Someone who thinks shod running is the only possible option drives me just as crazy as the barefooter who thinks all runners who wear shoes are stupid.
Of the various things that frequently get said when it comes to shoes or form there is one that really gets under my skin: “I heel strike and that’s my natural form. One shouldn’t change from their natural form.” Wow. That’s your natural form? How do you know? Might it be that form is what’s most comfortable? Might it be that particular form, because you’ve been using it for so long, is a habit? Habits feel good because they’re comfortable. We’re used to them. Breaking old habits and establishing new ones can be really hard.
When I learned as a kid to swim freestyle I always breathed on my right side. A few years ago as I was trying to use swimming for cross-training I realized single-side breathing was probably not a good idea. I’d run enough to know that always doing something to one side was inviting problems. I’d read that bilateral breathing was frequently used by lap swimmers, so I set out to learn it. Holy cow it was hard. I had to think. I had to practice. On quite a large number of occasions I’d grab a mouthful of water instead of air and I’d stop mid-way down the lane to stand up and catch my breath. After a while bilateral breathing felt more natural and, now, it is second nature to me. Single side breathing wasn’t my natural style, it was a habit. And habits can be changed.
So some heel strikers and those with other forms justify not changing because they’ve found their “natural form”. I find it even more curious that people claim to have found their natural form while wearing on their feet something that is totally unnatural: a man-made shoe made from man-made materials. I assert their “natural form” is a habit – a habit they’re familiar and comfortable with. And as we all know habits, just because they’re familiar and comfortable, aren’t always good for us. Me visiting the Shoe Forum was a habit - but it wasn’t a good habit. It wasn’t helping me or the Shoe Forum participants. I think people need to look at their running form and assess whether it’s really good for them – or just a comfortable habit.