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Myths about Expensive Cross-Training Shoes
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Nate Meinzer
(Rezniem) - F

Locale: San Francisco
Myths about Expensive Cross-Training Shoes on 04/19/2009 10:18:46 MDT Print View

Came across this article on the web. The article advocates running barefoot, or using a very thin-soled shoe, and claims that using high-end cross-training shoes actually increases the incidence of injury.

"Runners wearing top-of-the-line trainers are 123 per cent more likely to get injured than runners in cheap ones."

"Then there's the secretive Tarahumara tribe, the best long-distance runners in the world. These are a people who live in basic conditions in Mexico, often in caves without running water, and run with only strips of old tyre or leather thongs strapped to the bottom of their feet. They are virtually barefoot.

Come race day, the Tarahumara don't train. They don't stretch or warm up. They just stroll to the starting line, laughing and bantering, and then go for it, ultra-running for two full days, sometimes covering over 300 miles, non-stop. For the fun of it. One of them recently came first in a prestigious 100-mile race wearing nothing but a toga and sandals. He was 57 years old. "

Dan Cunningham

Locale: Land of 12,000 Loons
Desk Job on 04/19/2009 10:33:42 MDT Print View

Yes, I work a desk job. 5 days a week I'm sitting most of the time, but I try to get up and walk around as much as I can. When I do, I'm in dress shoes. I drive 50 minutes home each day. Once home, I may work out, go for a walk, or just sit and relax for the last few hours of my day.

There is just no way I'm ever going to be able hit the trail in something that doesn't offer cushion, traction, some protection, and comfort. It's the reality of my life - I'm not on the trial ever day. I do actually need good shoes.

If I was in a tribe, or was a professional runner, maybe.

The idea is neat though.

Edited by mn-backpacker on 04/19/2009 10:35:26 MDT.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Myths about Expensive Cross-Training Shoes on 04/19/2009 10:36:58 MDT Print View

Most of us aren't Tarahumara Indians and don't live that kind of lifestyle. The majority of us spend a lot of time in front of computers or in otherwise sedentary occupations. A Tarahumara living the lifestyle most of us live wouldn't be able to run 300 miles barefoot, either!

And is it the entire Tarahumara tribe that run those races, or only a select few? I strongly suspect it's the latter!

Nate Meinzer
(Rezniem) - F

Locale: San Francisco
Go read the article on 04/19/2009 10:41:34 MDT Print View

Way to pooh-pooh on it without reading it, y'all.

The article just uses the tribe as an interesting aside for the general proposition that shoes that allow your feet to operate similar to how they operate when they are barefoot are better.

It is not advocating that everyone will be able to run barefoot over any type of terrain.

The basic idea is that shoes confine our toes and force us to place pressure on our heels instead of our arches. This causes us to develop weak ankles as the pressure is less distributed when using a also causes us to suffer knee injuries.

The article also discusses runners pre-modern-cross-trainers and what they used.

Chris Benson
(roguenode) - F

Locale: Boulder
interesting reading... on 04/19/2009 10:53:24 MDT Print View

Not sure if I'm ready to drop my road running trainers just yet. However, the idea that the bare foot is the best tool for handling terrain is part of what drew me to trying inov-8 shoes and I'm very happy with my flyroc 310's as trail runners and hiking shoes. So much so, I've considered looking for inov-8 models with soles developed more for road use.

It took a little while for my feet to get used to the sparse padding and increased flexibility of the flyroc's. Not sure this description will make much sense, but now I LOVE being able to feel the ground surface and feel the foot bend and spring more readily on rocks, roots, etc. I know some have problems with inov-8 sizing (I buy larger than my normal size). Perhaps, there are other manufacturers with a similar philosophy in shoe design.

Edited by roguenode on 04/19/2009 10:54:09 MDT.

Nate Meinzer
(Rezniem) - F

Locale: San Francisco
Inov-8's on 04/19/2009 10:57:34 MDT Print View

I need something with a wider footbox, I think. Might try Inov-8's....haven't gotten any yet but everyone here loves them.

My ankle collapses going downhill probably once or twice every 40 miles. Not a big deal so far, but that's too often for me, and I'm still waiting for the "big one"...when I can't just hop it off.

Rick Cheehy
(kilgoretrout2317) - F

Locale: Virginia
Re: Inov-8's on 04/19/2009 11:06:20 MDT Print View

I did inov8's for the same reason, (feeling the trail)and I use my rock lite 305's for road running. (3 miles or less). The shoes are nimble so I can "hop off" ankle rolls really well, but I also have strong ankles since I work on my feet 40+ hrs a week. Nathan, do you use poles?

Nate Meinzer
(Rezniem) - F

Locale: San Francisco
Poles on 04/19/2009 11:11:52 MDT Print View

Yes I use poles going downhill for that very reason. I think I have always had weak ankles, but they've gotten much better over time.

Rick Cheehy
(kilgoretrout2317) - F

Locale: Virginia
Re: Poles on 04/19/2009 15:51:56 MDT Print View

Inov8 does make a ul boot, that really is light, but I've never tried them.

Chris Chastain
(Thangfish) - F

Locale: S. Central NC, USA
Myths about Expensive Cross-Training Shoes on 04/19/2009 17:32:41 MDT Print View

Great article. I just emailed it to my hiking buds.

I'm not sure the evidence they provide is enough to draw the conclusions they have drawn, but it seems correct in my limited experience.

I have been using Nike Free (got them VERY cheap because they don't sell well around here) for quite a while for daily workout running. They seem to help foot (ankle?) strength. Took a couple weeks to get used to them.
They are very flimsy and I'm scared to take them on the trail.

I do, however use a very minimal hiking shoe on the trail (the Inov8 Roclite 285). Minimal weight, padding and structure. I have a few hundred miles on them and I ain't going back. I've been thinking about the X-Talon 212.

I'm a little scared to try barefoot for more than a daily training run on a familiar track, but maybe now I'll try it this summer!

Wow. Thanks for the post, Nathan.

Edited by Thangfish on 04/19/2009 17:33:16 MDT.

Joe Kuster
(slacklinejoe) - MLife

Locale: Flatirons
Myths about Expensive Cross-Training Shoes on 04/19/2009 20:50:01 MDT Print View

Ok, I'll toss in my 2 cents:

First off, I've actually tried this since I received a pair of Vibram 5 Finger shoes to review for work. I wore them at least 3/4 of the time for 2 months. For those unfamiliar with 5 finger shoes, image a pair of toe socks with a stabile fit and a 1mm thin sticky rubber sole that is highly flexible. They are in essence the closest you can get to barefoot but still have some protection.

Having heard the same sales pitch from the company in that article I realized an obvious flaw:
When a person runs and has problems, they usually try to fix things like weak ankles, pronation etc by buying higher dollar shoes, thus completely throwing a wrench into the assumptions of the study.

Well, back to the topic, having done day hikes, walking on concrete streets and even biking with them I can say the following: It ain't all it's cracked up to be. For the first week, even gently working up to day hiking my feet were killing me. After 3 weeks, the initial pain went away but I found my feet tired MUCH faster with zero support and found it impossible to handle more than 5-7 mile days.

After two months, my testing was fairly complete and I tried to use it for an overnight trip for my write up. I had to bail due to foot pains. It took 3 weeks of being excessively easy on my feet to not have pain standing barefoot on a hard floor.

My feet always felt initially more comfortable due to the increased breathability, but simply put, it fatigued my feet too quick. I also ended up with sunburned feet, which was a new problem to worry about.

Comparitivly, my Salomon trail runners with superfeet, my feet can several handle 30 mile days in a row without being the weak link.

Edited by slacklinejoe on 04/19/2009 20:56:53 MDT.

Nate Meinzer
(Rezniem) - F

Locale: San Francisco
The study on 04/19/2009 20:54:35 MDT Print View

I believe the study allowed for the obvious correlation problem you are pointing out. That is, I don't think it's just that people who buy more expensive shoes are the people who run more and thus, get injured more. At least from my reading of the article, that cause was accounted for in the study. (However, I'm not sure how they'd determine if being injury prone led to more expensive shoes or vice versa . . .)

In any case, thanks for your input guys....Those Vibram shoes look interesting, but good to know that they aren't as comfy as the Inov8's.

cary bertoncini
(cbert) - F

Locale: N. California
having worked in a running shoe store for 3+ years on 04/19/2009 21:17:23 MDT Print View

i can tell you that the people who have the most problems are the people born with the most problems - mortons foot, flat arches, one leg longer than the other, hip upslips

and i also noticed a very definite trend, especially among shorter runners who are also drivers - tight hip and/or upslip on the right side (accelerator side), causing the foot to plant with foot slightly out of allingment (toes pointing to the right a few degrees), leading to more plantar fasicia, achilles tendon, calf, knee & hip issues. a shorter person almost always winds up sitting in the driver's seat with hips slightly (or sometimes aggressively) forward on the right side.

i think our modern world with mostly flat, hard surfaces (pavement, cement, tile, synthetic hard floors, etc.) is bad for barefoot especially, but also with shoes - the foot adapted to varied terrain and surfaces, all significantly softer than our modern environment for most people - i think this is a big contributor to increased plantar fascia problems & some others. also, among regular runners who use roads, the camber on roads is a problem for L/R imbalance issues, which show up in the major leg groups mentioned above.

i think most women's shoes, especially any with heels, should be outlawed - they do horrible damage to the body over time, not the least of which is shortening the achilles tendon.

cary bertoncini
(cbert) - F

Locale: N. California
oh the tarahumara on 04/19/2009 21:26:10 MDT Print View

are pretty interesting

and no, not all of them are runners

over the years, they've been in several of the big ultra races - they've generally done fairly well, but usually been well behind the winners. in one of the first big deal events where a couple of them were brought in (i think it was leadville 100 in colorado), I know that a top woman beat them - I'm not sure if they both even finished the race, actually

nate - the brands i'm familiar with that tend to have wide footbox in regular sizes: montrail, northface, new balance (they have 2 lasts for their shoes - one runs wide, the other doesn't), salomon

co's that i know make shoes in wide sizes (not all models usually): asics, new balance, brooks, nike

wide forefoot with narrow heel (what i need): northface, brooks, salomon, some new balance models

wide heel: asics

Zack Karas
( - MLife

Locale: Lake Tahoe
i gots me some bad feets on 04/19/2009 21:29:21 MDT Print View

Since starting long distance backpacking, I've had to see a podiatrist to help with foot pain that I would experience on thru-hikes (I'm now totally pain free). I got to talking to him and he told me that there is a much lower instance of foot problems in third world countries which he attributed to them being barefoot while they developed. It allowed their feet to fully widen, it gave them stronger tendons and ligaments, bones and muscles. He said that shoes can be a sort of cast. So, if I understand what he said correctly, either you start off barefoot and you can stay that way, or you start off with shoes and are forced to stick with them.

If I have a kid, I'll let him be barefoot as long as he pleases.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Myths about Expensive Cross-Training Shoes on 04/20/2009 01:02:16 MDT Print View


Great post!

I agree lighter is better. Barefoot is best, but not realistic for most us adults who have to go to work in shoes. But there are so many factors. Running is harder on feet than hiking. Running on cement (ill advised - which many cross country runners do) is bad no matter what you wear.

The other thing about the article is timing and training. Bowerman gets credit for the running shoe boom, although Adidas really got it started in the 60's. Until the mid 60's, with a few exceptions, most distance runners only ran maybe 50 miles per week. Since then, even high school kids can average 70 miles per week. Many college and elite runners average over 100 miles per week. So since the advent of the 'running' shoe, distance runners generally run twice as far every week. Wonder if that was taken into consideration.

Now lets look at how shoes are chosen. In the article, Nike was the official shoe at Stanford. That meant every runner wore Nike's. What if the 'last' used by the manufacturer is not correct for the runner... little choice because the shoe is supplied by Stanford and it was always a Nike. Most colleges supply shoes for runners on scholarship, and they furnished the brand the college has an agreement with. Not all brands fit the same. I do agree with Lananna that it is best to train barefooted if possible and to wear the cheaper shoes, because these shoes are 'under engineered' in the running world.

A while back I bought a pair of cross country shoes for training runs. I went to a well known store that fits distance runners. After trying on several brands/sizes, and running in them under the supervision of the sales guy, I ended up with a pair of Brooks. Brooks were not even on my shopping list!! But they fit the best, and I have no problems or pain at all running in them. So the other question would be, are runners buying shoes that are properly fitted. Interestingly, the Brooks weigh 1.6 oz less (pair) than my Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra trail runners and the Brooks don't have breathable mesh.

Most running shoes last about 500 miles. I wonder if those who buy the high end shoes keep running in them after they are worn out, due to the high cost. Interesting.

Sometimes I run and hike in Cross Country flats. These are lightweight shoes made for racing. Mine weigh 6.5 oz each. They are super comfortable, and great for running and hiking. Never have a foot problem with these. Only issue is that they don't last long. Overall, the racing flats are the best shoes I own for comfort. Even on long runs or hikes, I feel better at the end of the day with these shoes.

The last point is that some people just have foot problems period. Perhaps it is inherited, perhaps not. I think one of the reasons I have never had a serious foot issue is that I pretty much was barfooted until adulthood. My first two years in high school I ran cross country and track barfooted, because I could not afford running shoes (running barefooted was allowed in the 60's). Today I never see kids playing barefooted.

I am planning a 50 or 60 mile trip in 5 weeks over some rough terrain, and am contemplating using my racing flats. Should I do this, I will let everyone know how it goes.

Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
Which Study? on 04/20/2009 08:01:36 MDT Print View

Okay, I'll bite. (But only because I'm trying to work off the two and a half pots of coffee I drank today;^) )

The article is written by the author of a book that is to be released on Thursday. It's a fairly blatant advertisement for the book in which he appears to be keen to create as much controversy as possible. He doesn't seem to actually cite any studies that support his premise, which appears to be that expensive running shoes CAUSE injury.

I've flicked through the article a couple of times, and the only study I see mentioned is the Australian one

"In a paper for the British Journal Of Sports Medicine last year, Dr Craig Richards, a researcher at the University of Newcastle in Australia, revealed there are no evidence-based studies that demonstrate running shoes make you less prone to injury. Not one. " Fair enough, but this doesn't prove that they cause injury

"Dr Daniel Lieberman, professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, has been studying the growing injury crisis in the developed world for some time and has come to a startling conclusion: 'A lot of foot and knee injuries currently plaguing us are caused by people running with shoes that actually make our feet weak, cause us to over-pronate (ankle rotation) and give us knee problems. "

A quick look at Dr Lieberman's CV here
lists over $3,000,000 in grants (okay, I put that in to make him sound impressive. $2,632,062 of it was for "Integrative Human Evolutionary Biology." But there's easy another mill there) and 77 published papers.

By changing the year and the letter after it, you can browse his articles here.

I'm pretty sure if there were actual studies to support his startling conclusion, he'd be able to reel them off.

It's interesting that the very first person the article mentions (apart from those two nameless Nike sales reps) is Vin Lananna and how he gets his athletes to train barefoot. "When I was told this anecdote it came as no surprise"

He seems to miss the part about how they're running barefoot on a golf course. At least that's how I remember the anecdote going. That's the nice thing about anecdotes, they're always right, even if they don't always agree. He DOES mention that the Nike research team observed their 20 subjects running "on a grassy field"

So although his points may be perfectly valid, it's probably reasonable to take it all with a small grain of salt.

Maybe expensive runners are over priced and Roger's KT26s really are the duck's guts. But unless you've been walking barefoot through the desert since you were a toddler, showing up to do the Badwater in a pair of thongs may be poor gear choice.

Flat feet since I was a baby
Run about 30 km a week
Occasional plantar fasciitis
Orthotist for the last 16 years
Coffee has now worn off

Zack Karas
( - MLife

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Myths about Expensive Cross-Training Shoes on 04/20/2009 09:41:15 MDT Print View

"Most running shoes last about 500 miles. I wonder if those who buy the high end shoes keep running in them after they are worn out, due to the high cost."

I'm guilty of wearing shoes way longer than I should. On the PCT, where my feet hurt the most, I wore New Balance 805s and I averaged 700-1,000 miles per pair. When I saw my podiatrist and told him this, he just started shaking his head. He said 300-500 miles, depending on the shoe, is the max. He also gave me some guidelines in picking out shoes that I attribute to my feet feeling fine on long distance hikes now (plus he gave me orthotics).

1. Flex the toes up and see where the shoe flexes. It should flex where the ball of your foot is--I've found that about half of the shoes I look at flex under the arch.

2. With one hand grab the toe box and with the other grab the heel. Twist the shoe like you would wring out a towel. The less twist, the better the shoe.

I finally settled on the Adidas Supernova Trail and brought in a pair to have him look at them. He said they passed all the tests with flying colors. I've been wearing them exclusively for 5 years now, and no more than 450 miles at a time, and have had NO foot problems--and I've hiked maybe a bit more than 6000 miles since then. Surprisingly, I've never heard of another backpacker using Adidas shoes.

Granted, I've inherited retarded feet from my lovely mother, so what I've posted would most definitely be aimed at those with foot problems.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re : Cross trainers are for softies. on 04/20/2009 11:22:02 MDT Print View

The Roman army (and others) could average over 20 miles a day, for weeks at a time, wearing leather sandals with a metal studded sole. That was carrying a heavy weapon load. No cushioning in those days. ;)

Edited by MikefaeDundee on 04/20/2009 11:22:40 MDT.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Myths about Expensive Cross-Training Shoes on 04/20/2009 11:25:31 MDT Print View

I've been running in the Supernova Riot for 300 miles now. Hands down, my favorite trail shoe to date. I have another pair in the mail right now.
I'm logging about 45-55 miles/week right at the moment, long runs up to 28 miles. This shoe has really impressed me- stability, grip, cushion, all of it. I think it's even OK for limited road use.