Running: controlled falling

I recently got a pair of Vibram Five Fingers Sprints, shoes that are supposed to help me run faster and in a way that softens the impact on my knees. I got them mainly because they make my feet look like a gecko’s:

Photo: Lewis & Clark College.

The New York Times discusses the value of barefoot running in this week’s Sunday Magazine. The verdict is that any benefits are specious, which to me sounds like the same scientific reasoning that questions the value of things like losing weight through diet and exercise, breast feeding, and trees. I’ll call it the science of inconvenience.

In fact, running (barefoot, since presumably shoes came after fire) probably developed out of our need (desire) to eat meat. Over time, instead of climbing up trees, Homo erectus acquired the endurance needed to outpace the scavengers, run down prey, and eventually keep up with the other big hunters (e.g. cheetahs: 65/mph). Like our ancient ancestors, I started on four legs but eventually learned to run on two towards tasty things.

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6 thoughts on “Running: controlled falling

  1. but just because running barefoot was first doesn't mean it is necessarily better, right?Also you have to take into account that an activity that might have been evolutionarily beneficial in early man could still decrease our quality of life now (like how our preference for calorically-dense foods is killing us for example). One thought that pops to mind is that with shorter lifespans, the long-term maintenance of connective tissue wasn't that important. In fact, evolutionarily speaking, it was only important that you stay alive long enough to breed and provide a survival benefit to your offspring. There's no selective benefit to having good knees at 55, but I'd still like them.However, those shoes look cool as hell, I'll give you that.

  2. Mersmann–I of course agree with your point that things are not better simply because they come first. Antibiotics win over the bubonic plague, that's for sure. I also agree with your point that there's a sweetspot in terms of lifespan and genetic fitness. I do think that good knees after child-bearing age have some impact on modern selection though–say your kids' kids need someone to help them cross the street. What would they do without you, grandpa? Also, good knees at 55 would seem to require good knees at 30. Knowing what we know about health and lifespan these days, it has to be true that indicators of longevity will come into play as much as immediately evident characteristics.Anyway, it would seem that barefoot running by choice is much different from barefoot running for survival. Running part of the day for perhaps shorter distances and with certainly less adrenaline than when fleeing from predators or hunting might just create the perfect balance of strengthening without the wear and tear. It could be that the problem was not the act itself, but how we were forced to do it.

  3. yeah, that's a great point – also the degree to which we've changed our environment and our selves – we're much larger and heavier than we used to be, and we're more frequently pounding that weight into unrelenting surfaces.we ran so we could eat meat, and that enabled us to get smarter, which in turn has facilitated easy and ubiquitous access to meat, which has resulted in being unable to run?

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