Why is running so difficult?
There is posture, there is running form, and there is breathing to consider. But before you can even begin to run, you must first choose a pair of shoes - or no shoe at all if you want to follow the new "barefoot" running brigade.
So where does a runner begin?
If you're in the 30yrs+ range like myself, you may remember the old days when athletes were wearing Converse All Stars (Chuck Taylors), and they were a revolutionary and trusted shoe on most professional athletes' feet. Sure, they are retro-trendy now, but back then, that was THE shoe.
Converse evolved then slowly declined as Phil Knight developed a brand called Nike. And then Air became gold. More cushion, better running, more bounce, less injury, right? Air Jordan and Air Max produced Air Profits.
Nike led an industry that made billions on cushions for a good 30+ years, but strong minds within the athletic community are changing as 'cushion' is replaced by 'no cushion'.
Barefoot runners were once thought to be complete loonies - Mary Decker meet Zola Bud - but suddenly it is very fashionable to ditch the running shoes.
Last year, me and my Nike Airs missed the City 2 Surf application deadline, so I opted for a Coogee to Bondi run. At Bronte Beach, I saw a man who had continued running after the event along with his numbered bib and finish line medal. At 17kms he was still running – barefoot.
Loony? Maybe, maybe not. Many in the fitness community are leaning towards Zola and Bronte Beach man in their decision to dispense with the padding.
Vibram FiveFingers is a footwear company that has built a brand around barefoot running, and they provide a . . . let's call it a foot condom, or a rubber sock that covers your foot and toes like a glove. The barefoot feel of their shoe is supposed to promote a healthier forefoot strike and better running form, which should reduce injuries.
I thought that was what Nike Air was supposed to do?
But Nike is taking note, and has even followed suit. In fact, the entire industry is now doing a 180 on itself, so for those that don't like Air but prefer the barefoot running feel … you can choose to go Nike Free.
Whether you are actually barefoot, using FiveFingers, or sticking with Nike, the idea is to let your shoe do less for you, so your foot can be strong and your anatomy can work naturally.
In fact the barefoot brigade have turned footwear into a movement and 1 May has been nominated Inaugural Barefoot Running Day.
Other companies also want their shoes to do more for less, and MBT is hoping to do it by providing instability in their shoe when one walks. An unstable shoe? Yes. And that shoe has been apparently been proven to 'increase muscle activity, improve posture, decrease shock on hip and knee joints, and help with some back, joint and foot pain.'
Even New Balance (yes, that hard core running company) is getting on board this lopsided craze with a walking and toning shoe for enhanced 'muscle activation and calorie burn'.
But I'm not buying it. Even though I have not dissected the scientific studies or put electrodes on my legs to verify claims of increased muscle activation, it all sounds too good to be true. And even if it isn't, I just don't want to wear shoes with bottoms shaped like a sailboat.
If I want 18 per cent more glute, quad or hamstring activation, I'll do heavier dead lifts, another set of squats, superset with some plyometric lunges, or I'll hit the stairs and smash myself with 18 per cent more intensity.
So it seems that even in 2011, choosing the correct shoe is still a big, dark mystery. Barefoot, Air or MBTs? Maybe Chuck Taylor had it right all along.
What has your experience been with running shoes? Do you prefer to go cushioned, barefoot or lopsided?
Michael Jarosky is a (former) chubby strategy consultant from the US and an author. He now works as a personal trainer in Sydney CBD.