Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Birkenstock Essay Scholarship- Footwear University

Oddly, I’ve always been very fond of my feet.
Where a toned torso is praised, my feet SHOULD qualify for a similar level of recognition. My feet are toned. Very ‘muscly’ indeed.
Running 30 odd miles a week tends to do that, and hey- my feet are my point of contact. Until I can successfully master flying or hovering, all the movements I do in running would be for nothing without my feet. My feet are very important to me for this reason.

Did you know there are 26 bones in the human foot? That’s One-quarter of the bones in the entire human body. In our feet. There are 33 joints, more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments and a vast network of blood vessels, nerves, skin, and soft tissue. I’ve heard that you have just as many nerves on the soles of your foot as you do on the male foreskin, think about that one!

My particular interest in feet began when I found such a thing called ‘barefoot running’.
Running without shoes? Yes, or sometimes in ‘barefoot shoes’ which is the most hilarious contradiction made in just so much as two words but HEY.
The idea being that man was designed to run- and to run as he was made.
Several recognised pieces of research have led to this conclusion, mostly done by a chap named Dr. Lieberman of Harvard University.

The theory goes, that the modern running shoe is bad. Why? Because if you break your arm, and need to put it in a cast for an extended period of time, what happens to your arm? Atrophy- the muscles start to waste away. They are not being used or needed, and so they gradually weaken.
Same goes for a ‘supportive’ running shoe. Because of the added support, those muscles are not being used anymore- Atrophy kicks in.

You could take a Engineer, and say “Hi, I’ve got this bridge… and we need to make it stronger- what should we do?”. No engineer ever would say “oh yeah, you just support it UNDERNEATH with something”. Rules of Physics denote that to strengthen a bridge force must be applied from above.
Why is this relevant?
Well the most important part of the human foot is the arch.
A biological bridge, our bodies natural ‘suspension’ if you like.
Conventional running shoes often have arch supports, underneath the arch of your foot.

The biggest issue however, is that of ‘heel striking’.
A hypothesis now widely recognised as fact around the world: my athletics coach used to tell us not to heel strike. This is not just a barefoot thing.

If you put 5cm of foam between your heel and the ground-

1. The heel of your shoe is now closer to the ground, and as you lengthen your stride it is now the first point of contact.

2. Striking your heel creates backwards momentum- not good when all you want to be doing is moving… forwards.

3. Your heel is a solid structure of bone. When you then extend your leg in a heel strike, your knees lock and you create a solid brake up to your hips. This absorbs very little impact, and sends horrific shock waves up your legs and through your knees with every stride.

4. Quite frankly, you are adopting a walk-like-stride rather than a run. My dad heel strikes, and there is very little difference between his walk, and his run.

Whereas the foot, acts to conserve most of the energy exerted onto the floor. Like a spring it sends it right back up into the next stride. (The arch in action)
Running with a heel strike, you start over with every step. All the energy you invest into putting one foot forward is lost by the time you hit the ground.

One of my teachers was inspired by a particular rant of mine, and tried it out for himself. His quote went something along the lines of “My form just ‘clicked’ into place, I’m not usually that aware but I instantly knew it was better”.
This exact experience happened to me too.
All those nerves, the feet are the perfect feedback system. Think about it.

All I know, is it feels great. The temperature change, the dry, the wet… grass, grass feels really good!

And of course, the first thing anyone asks me is “but what about the broken glass, what about the dog poo, the needles??”

You simply see it, and run around it. You’d be surprised how much attention you pay to what’s in front of you when you don’t have your shoes on.  

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