The foot naturally strikes the ground differently without the protection of the runner's cushion. Eoin Lúc Ó Ceallaigh/The42
Born to Run

The truth about barefoot running - the key to avoiding injury or a runner's fad?

Whether you’re a casual jogger or into long distance, paying attention to footwear and form could help reduce the risk of injuries.

THE WINNER OF the 1980 Boston marathon, Jacqueline Gareau once said of muscle fatigue: “the body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop”.

Former world champion marathoner Rob De Castella also noted:

“If you feel bad at 10 miles, you’re in trouble. If you feel bad at 20 miles, you’re normal. If you don’t feel bad at 26 miles, you’re abnormal.”

The stress of running definitely causes pain for runners after enough time, but this is not always the body saying that it doesn’t want to run as Gareau said.

Ten years ago, American journalist Christopher McDougall released his bestselling book Born to Run, which argued, as it says on the tin, that humans are actually very much designed for long-distance running.

Why then, are the injury stats for runners so high, from casual joggers to marathoners, if running is what we were born to do?

McDougall’s book made a case that footwear was a major contributor to running injuries, and that by moving to barefoot or minimalist footwear, that the foot could reach its most natural form and help prevent common running injuries such as runner’s knee and plantar fasciitis – a common heel problem.

Cue the running community starting a barefoot craze in search of a quick fix to injury problems.

Unfortunately, many runners found that it wasn’t the quick fix that they’d hoped for, as the sudden change in footwear contributed to injuries in different areas of the foot or legs.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Christopher McDougall’s book was incorrect, however. So what are the facts? Are runners better off with running shoes or without?

To find out, we spoke to Dr Joe Warne, of TU Dublin, who has done extensive research into the benefits of barefoot running and minimalist footwear to see what can be gained by the casual runner to help avoid injuries. / YouTube

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