adidas sambas a running argument

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By AMY CORTESE The New York Times

Todd Byers was among more than 20,000 people running the San Francisco Marathon last month. Dressed in shorts and a T shirt, he might have blended in with the other runners, except for one glaring difference: He was barefoot.

Even in anything goes San Francisco, his lack of footwear prompted curious stares. His photo was snapped, and he heard one runner grumble, “I just don’t want the guy without shoes to beat me.”

Byers, 46, a running coach and event manager from Long Beach, Calif., who clocked in at 4 hours 48 minutes, has run 75 marathons since 2004 in bare feet.

“People are kind of weird about it,” he shrugs.

Maybe they shouldn’t be. Recent research suggests that for all their high tech features, modern running shoes may not actually do much to improve a runner’s performance or prevent injuries. Some runners are convinced that they are better off with shoes that are little more than thin gloves for the feet or with no shoes at all.

Plenty of medical experts disagree with this notion. The result has been a raging debate in running circles, pitting a quirky band of barefoot runners and researchers against the running shoe and sports medicine establishments.

It has also inspired some innovative footwear. Upstart companies like Vibram, Feelmax and Terra Plana are challenging the running shoe status quo with thin sole designs meant to combine the benefits of going barefoot with a layer of protection. This move toward minimalism could have a significant impact on the $17 billion sports shoe market.

The shoe industry giants defend their products, saying they help athletes perform better and protect feet from stress and strain not to mention concrete and broken glass.

But for all the technological advances promoted by the industry,
adidas sambas a running argument
experts say the injury rate among runners is virtually unchanged since the 1970s. Some ailments, like those involving the knee and Achilles’ tendon, have increased.

“There’s not a lot of evidence that running shoes have made people better off,” said Daniel E. Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard, who has researched the role of running in human evolution.

Makers of athletic shoes have grown and prospered by selling a steady stream of new and improved models designed to cushion, coddle and correct the feet.

In October, for example, the Japanese athletic shoe maker Asics will introduce the latest version of its Gel Kinsei, a $180 marvel of engineering that boasts its “Impact Guidance System” and a heel unit with multiple shock absorbers. Already offered by Adidas is the Porsche Design Sport Bounce:S running shoe, with metallic springs inspired by a car’s suspension system. It costs as much as $500.

Some question the benefit of all that technology. Dr. Craig Richards, a researcher at the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle in Australia and a designer of minimalist shoes surveyed the published literature and could not find a single clinical study showing that cushioned or corrective running shoes prevented injury or improved performance.

Other experts say that there is little research showing that the minimalist approach is any better.

“In 95 percent of the population or higher, running barefoot will land you in my office,” said Dr. Lewis G. Maharam, medical director for the New York Road Runners, the group that organizes the New York City Marathon. “A very small number of people are biomechanically perfect,” he said,
adidas sambas a running argument
so most need some sort of supportive footwear.

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