Prior to doing distance running for triathlon training I had never had what one would call a typical runners injury. For the better part of my life I had trained in minimal sprinters shoes; as most of the training I was doing was targeted towards getting my 40 time as low as it could go. However, once I transitioned into endurance training, got a beefier, more “technologically” advanced sneaker I started to get pains in my lower back, knees and flare ups in the joins of my toes. Maybe I was just too heavy to run for distance I thought. As my weight dropped the pain remained and I thought there was something more to it.
While reading “Born To Run,” in August I was shocked to find out that as shoe companies have advanced corrective technology in their sneakers the incidents of runners injuries (plantar fasciitis, IT Band syndrome, etc) has increased. Even more shockingly, when Nike visited Stanford University in 2001, they noticed that the Stanford track team was running in Nike’s cheapest shoe, not the one with uber technology. Vin Lananna, the legendary coach, told the Nike Reps that his athletes preferred the cheaper shoe, were faster and got injured less in them.
The research Nike performed led them to develop the Nike Frees, the shoe I am currently running in, healthier and faster than ever before. The crux of the argument is, in our physiological evolution our feet were our initial sensors for protection. Our feet have an unbelievable amount of nerve endings in them (as certain pursuits will let you know) which are made deaf through the advances in shoe technology. In other words, corrective shoe technology may have been correcting a problem that was never a problem – your feet tell your body how it should run, your body doesn’t tell your feet how they should strike.
Nike developed a shoe that provides shock absorption but lets the foot move naturally or “freeing the foot”. The sole is constructed through individual compartments that act as receptacles for the nerve endings but provide protection since we now run on pavement not dirt. Since I have been running in the Frees I have felt no knee pain, hardly any back pain and the tightness in my hamstrings and hips has all but disappeared. Additionally I am back to the form and speed I had when all I did was speed work but can maintain that stride style, cadence and pace for much longer distances than ever before (the pace thing is all about training though). This is the shoe I also ran in for the South Carolina Half Iron.
So why am I writing all this? I’m not a doctor so I can’t say that the Frees are the solution to runner’s problems around the world. I however do know from my experience that I have run more comfortably for longer periods and at a faster pace than ever before. Sometimes getting back to the natural way of doing things is just what the doctor ordered. I can’t promise they will work for you but if you’ve tried everything else they just might be worth a try. If you do give them a try it is suggested you use them for just a half hour at a time on grass as you build the strength in your foot muscles if you haven’t done barefoot work or high intensity speed work in the past