Runners return to natural form with new footwear
Published: Monday, September 10, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 10, 2012 23:09
As runners search for a return to the natural way of pursuing their sport—barefoot—sneakers with toes, especially Vibram FiveFingers are gaining attention.
A basic pair, starting around $80, has an open top and no laces. They are designed to look like a ballet slipper with toes, says Stephen Sinko, manager of the Delaware Running Company on Main Street.
Toe sneakers were originally designed as water shoes and then adapted for running. The sole was made thicker and the arches were slightly elevated. These improvements can increase the price up to $120, Sinko says.
“The shoes got a new type of customer into the store,” Sinko says. “People who were loyal stayed with traditional sneakers, but the minimalist idea brought new customers in.”
According to Sinko, the shoes are not for everyone. He says that they take time to adapt to and are a difficult fit. Curiosity sparked conversation about them among the public, Sinko says.
Alicia Dahl, a graduate student in the health promotions program and a physical education professor, says she believes that learning about the benefits the shoes is the key to getting the most out of them.
Dahl says that heel-striking is one of the most common problems among runners and causes lower back pain and uneven balance. In most sneakers, the heel is raised, which increases the problem. The heel becomes the point that all of a runner’s body weight lands on, instead of striking the ground mid-foot. Allowing the toes to spread out equally distributes body weight as well when running, Dahl says.
“I stick with them now because I never noticed the amount of heel -striking I did before,” Dahl says.
Dahl says she is a huge supporter of the toe sneakers, but she does not promote them to her classes or even suggest students wear them. Avid runners may see extreme difference in performance and overall body mechanisms when adjusting to the new running form, but the sneakers are not for everyone, she says.
“Little kids do what we are naturally made to do,” said Dahl. “They are ideal for younger children and early teens as they can most easily make the natural progression to adopt minimalist running.”
Junior Annie Sanger wears Vibram FiveFinger sneakers whenever she can. As someone who is not an avid runner, she says she wears them for a very different reason.
Standing at 6 feet 2 inches tall, Sanger has hammertoes , a condition causing her toes to curl inward. While walking or running, Sanger naturally steps on her pinky and fourth toe.
After visiting a doctor who recommended removing a bone from two or three of her toes, Sanger learned about the FiveFinger shoes her freshman year through a barefoot running workshop held by the biomechanics department.
“It’s actually pretty cool because in the year I have been wearing them, without pulling them apart with my hands I can now stretch my toes fully out,” Sanger says. “I have a lot more movement and flexibility, and I’ve noticed great differences in my balance.”
The basic FiveFinger shoe offers two millimeters of material between the foot and the ground and provides no support. As users adapt to the shoe and the barefoot running style, the feet and calves naturally build up their muscle, Sanger says.
Junior Neil Redfield learned about barefoot running his senior year of high school when he was invited to attend a scholarship interest weekend at the university.
He wore only typical running sneakers, as a cross-country runner in high school, he wore only typical running sneakers and blames his footwear for his lack of improvement. Now, he says he only wears the FiveFinger sneakers because he finds running sneakers uncomfortable, painful and difficult to run in.
Redfield, an anthropology major, says he is also interested in human adaptation as it involves and relates to running. He says he likes the idea of the shoes and learning how they shape and work with the body.
“I love when I can actually go barefoot for a little while,” Redfield says. “I love the idea of going out running and not needing anything but your own two feet. There are so little things in life you can do with just the human body.”