A packed house of runners at the Showroom Theatre, Sheffield heard a series of lectures discussing the benefits and disadvantages of 'barefoot running' last Friday night. The evening, part of the Expert Night Lectures organised by the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival, was organised by Accelerate, the specialist running store.
It was Accelerate's, Stuart Hale, who began the evening by reviewing the development of the running shoe, comparing the modern-day minimalist shoe with those of 25 years ago and asking: "Have we come full circle?"
Recent developments by Saucony have seen the launch of their minimalist range and it was the company's Paul Heywood who began the debate. He argued that minimalist shoes are not for everyone: "Some runners will still require structure in their shoes and to go full-on and begin barefoot running has many inherent dangers. Also, some people come home from a busy day at the office and the last thing they want to do is think about their running - they just want to switch off".
So what makes minimalists shoes, well, minimalist? Paul explained to the audience: "Saucony has been involved with university studies that demonstrate that the foot reacts best to a one piece midsole and a heel to forefoot drop of a mere 4mm. Something, which, we believe New Balance has also discovered in their own separate studies." The audience were invited to take a look and they noticed that the cushioning was firm and that there was a surprising lack of weight to the shoes.
Inov8's Matt Brown was next into the spotlight. He said: "Inov-8 believes that many people will benefit from natural running shoes as they will help to strengthen the foot and leg, so reducing injuries."
With Inov-8 due to launch their own version of Natural Road Running shoes this March, it was interesting to see that a system was being put in place to ensure runners of all abilities could learn the benefits of 'less is more'. Also that the introduction of training minimally or even going barefoot should be a gradual process to avoid injury with Matt recommending a drop of 3mm in the heel of the shoe every 12months. Inov-8's new range reflected this transition and drop in heel height and Matt went on to explain that for some it would be a matter of perhaps only one day a week training in this type of shoe to enable them to adapt safely.
The next view was that of podiatrist Colin Papworth of Holywell Active Health. Colin explained that one thing the 'barefooters' had right is that the most important part of the gait cycle is the toe off. He added: "Our big toes are very important which isn't reflected in traditional instore gait analysis with its emphasis on the heel landing." Colin's felt that minimalist shoes would suit many people, but not everyone and that there is still a place for orthotics.
The final speaker was journalist and barefoot advocate, Nik Cook. Nik explained how he was injury-prone before taking up fell running. He said there was a definite 'euphoria' with running barefoot and this had perhaps caused people to overdo things and cause themselves injury. He recommended a steady introduction to the idea as strengthening of the supporting muscles, ligaments and tendons takes time.
Stuart Hale and the staff at Accelerate are showing their commitment to minimalist running with the opening of a Natural Running and Minimalist Footwear Centre at their Attercliife Road store in Sheffield on March 5.