I used to run for exercise. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t look like that now, huh? But I started running in college and kept it up for a few years after. Of course, after my first real bad case of shin splints, I was introduced to the world of real running shoes. (Ah, the original Nike Air Pegasus, circa 1982, my favorite shoe ever.) Everything I know about shoes now comes from those years, stuff like support, cushioning, foot pronation. Even today I tend to spend a lot of money on shoes, believing that the technology will save me from pain and other problems.
Here’s an article that says, not necessarily so: The painful truth about trainers: Are running shoes a waste of money? It points out that until the early 1970s, people ran in very basic shoes, with no cushioning or support at all, and people had very few foot problems. And we’re not talking about kids running around playing; we’re talking, among others, Roger Bannister—y’know, the first guy who ran a mile in under four minutes.
The fact is, as the article mentions, the running shoe industry basically invented itself, and thrives today. Yet no one has ever done a study on whether their shoes help. Do they prevent injury? Do they make you faster? There is no empirical evidence. There is now, though, anecdotal evidence that there are more foot injuries than ever among runners. The reason for this may be that we are defeating the foot’s natural abilities to do its own shock-absorption and load banlancing with the super-hi-tech shoes we spend dozens if not hundreds of dollars on.
I can take it one step further: It’s not just serious runners who would suffer. There are a lot of people buying either serious trainers or off-brand knock-offs of serious trainers. Maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe something simpler that makes our feet work more and get strong makes more sense. There may not be empirical evidence to support that yet, either, but at least it’s cheaper. It’s something I’ll be thinking about the next time I go shoe shopping.