JRG

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Footwear designer based in North London. Aspiring Skate shoe designer.
I love new shoes, Design, Reading, Skateboarding, Hanging out with my friends, Riding my bike, Running, Music, Travelling to new places, also Tea and Crumpets!

This’ my extended essay that I wrote for my final year at University.
I am going to explore the history of running throughout human history to understand the attitudes to the modern running movement in the different shapes and forms that are present in the current market. Fashion has dictated the shapes of footwear thought history and is evident in the deformities that are present amongst habitually shod nations. The fashion industry had an impact on performance footwear and the attitudes are based on bias marketing campaigns. How is it that humans have become so disconnected to the original functional aspect of foot coverings that even advancements in technology still cannot lessen the injury rates runners are faced with?

“Sports psychologists tell us that, for many people today, running has become an essential to mental well being. The first runners though ran, however, not for psychic hygiene but for sheer survival.” (Cavanagh, 1980) Morphology alongside anthropology has unlocked secrets as to our origin to becoming the world’s number one predator. David Carrier and Professor Dennis Bramble worked on the theory to figure out what it was that separated us from the other species of developing humanoids at the time. We first were gatherers that lived in dense forest, not to dissimilar to how modern day apes live in the forest now.

With the warmer climate emerging from the end of the ice age, the forests we lived in were retreating and in its place came the savannah. Here roamed a whole host of new prey that took an entirely different method of capture and the species that was quickest to adapt was homo strain of the evolutionary branch. “No one had ever figured out why early humans had separated themselves from all creation by taking their knuckles off the ground and standing up. It was to breathe. Because the better you are at breathing the better you are at running.” (McDougall. C 2010).  “In the whole history of vertebrates on earth, humans are the only running biped that’s tailless” (McDougall. C 2010). When quadrupeds run, they get stuck in a one-breath-per-locomotion cycle and when their core temperature gets to 105 degrees they simply have to stop to cool down. Whereas we can pant to our hearts content and sweat whilst maintaining a constant speed, meaning that if humans could chase and keep sight of an animal on a hot day and keep an animal in the direct heat; Dinner would simply come to a grinding halt. This appears to be the key to our success “Everyone knew that at some point in history, early humans got to a big supply of protein, which allowed their brains to expand. Our brains kept growing until they were seven times larger than the brains of any comparable mammal.” (McDougall. C 2010). 

The arms and head stabilize the sideways rotation of running, therefore making us more efficient. Meaning the bigger our heads got the better we could get at running, all thanks to the development of the nuchal ligament that stabilized the head whilst running. It acts like a rubber band at the base of our skull, keeping it from falling from our center of gravity. It would seem as if we were born to run.

Since the conception of competition, humans have strived to out perform their competitors; the purest form of the competitions being the footrace.

The Olympics set a precedent for competition; at its conception runners ran barefoot and naked.

The Olympics was stopped during the reign of the Roman Empire and seemed to be condoned to the history books until 1896 where it was hosted by Greece once again; thus beginning the ritual of training for competition.

The explosive growth of the athletic footwear industry can be traced back to the era of synthetic organic chemistry. In 1751 Francois Fresnau discovered rubber (“casutchouc”) The invention of the vulcanization process adapted by Charles Goodyear in 1839 (Cheskin, M 1987 p.128) opened the doors to ideas of rubbers application.

The first shoe company to take advantage of this process was Spalding, Whom in 1907 created the first vulcanized basketball shoe. Players and customers alike found the benefits of wearing the new type of footwear too good to pass up and led onto the creation of the more widely know Converse All Star. It gained an impeccable reputation and is often given the credit for the lesser-known Spalding’s achievement for the first vulcanized basketball shoe.

In 1926 Eckert and Ziegler marketed their first injection-molding machine (Cheskin, M 1987 p.128-129), which enabled companies to manufacture a whole new host of polymer-based goods.

The running shoe story cannot be told without inclusion of Nike; “Nike began in 1964 with a casual agreement and a handshake between University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight, a middle-distance runner. The pair formed Blue Ribbon Sports and began importing Japanese brand Onitsuka Tiger running shoes, known today as ASICs, for sale in the U.S.” (Vann, K)

 “Take a primitive organism, say a freshman. Make it lift, or jump or run. Let it rest. What happens? A little miracle. It gets a little better. It gets a little stronger or faster or more enduring. That’s all training is. Stress. Recover. Improve. You’d think any damn fool could do it. But you don’t. You work too hard and rest too little and get hurt.” (Moore K, 2006)

“For a guy who told so many people how to run, Bowerman didn’t do much of it himself. He only started to jog a little at age fifty, after spending time in New Zealand with Arthur Lydiard, the father of fitness running and the most influential distance-running coach of all time” (McDougall 2010)

The invention of the modern running shoe in the 70’s should have paved way for footwear to becoming functional once again; Considering the advancements in technology and the studies based on the parameters of gait alongside new manufacturing techniques, there is still loads to explore between the last and the foot that will be functioning inside the confides of the shoe. Bill Bowermans statement about working too hard and resting too little proved to be the problem with the running shoes that he had created. The new stresses that were acting upon the body were far from the natural gait and the adaptation to the new types of footwear meant that runners globally were stricken with injury at a rate of 70% of all runners worldwide.

“Eventually even Bowerman was stricken by doubt. As Nike steamrolled along, churning out a bewildering variety of shoes and changing models every year besides having something else to sell, Bowerman felt that his original mission of making an honest shoe had been eroded by a new ideology, which he summed up in tow words “Make money”. Nike, he griped in a letter to a colleague, was “distributing a lot of crap”. Even to one of Nike’s founding partners, it seemed, the words of the social critic Eric Hoffer were ringing true: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and turns into a racket.” (McDougall 2010)

Fashion has dictated the shapes of footwear since advancements of techniques enabled a broader range of shapes to be explored and produced, at what point the function switched to fashion is impossible to pinpoint but the repercussions have resulted in generations of people that have suffered as a result of ill fitting footwear that are unheard of in un-shod nations.     

“No standard shoe last however well researched and designed can fit any athlete perfectly. However slight the misfit this effect may effect the natural motion of the foot. Probably the greatest concern should be the swing or the in-flare of the last which causes instability as the out fanning foot supinates to the outside of the shoe” (Cheskin 1987)

“The form of the last has been a reason for complaints for centuries. The Greeks (i.e., Paul of Sagina) described injuries, which came from wearing shoes. Camper complained in 1783 that the same lasts were used for right and left shoes and hoped that his “mockery would help to improve the shoes” It took Hermann von Meyer’s devoted intervention. To change the situation, in 1860 he wrote in his book Die richtige Gestalt der Schuhe (The Right Form of the Shoes) that “most people suffer from badly constructed shoes.” Von Meyer found “Fashion detrimental on the mechanism of the foot”, a statement which is still surely true today. The correct form of the last, according to von Meyer, was such the line that was drawn parallel to the toe-line passed through the centre point of the heel. When the line did not pass through the centre point, Von Meyer criticized the shoe. This applies for shoes today as well” (Nigg, B 1986)

“Pfeffer emphasized that he’s not against fashion shoes, and that some patients have congenital deformities similar to those acquired from wearing high heels. Nevertheless, he said, to overstress the occasional occurrence of congenital problems does most patients a disservice, because it suggests that they are powerless to prevent trouble.” (Groner, C 2009)

A quick look at human anatomy will reveal that there are millions of nerve endings in the foot alone, this is no coincidence as it is our first point of contact between the world and us. Proprioception is our bodies way of connecting us and the ground beneath our feet, it enables us to react to discrepancies on the surface and alter our bodies alignment to enable us to stand as bipeds.

So how has it become that we neglect the single piece of hardware that connects us to the world that surrounds us?

“The answer to this question begins with the traditional shoe trade. Early forms of foot coverings or shoes were very functional. The goal was protection from the elements and from injury. Once these were achieved, Comfort became the next objective. Protection and comfort are both functional features of any shoe. However, style and fashion are not. Here is the key departure from performance footwear. When shoes become fashion articles, styling and form play the most important roles; function is often sacrificed. The primary concern of the true sport-shoe technician is design, components and materials that meet performance criteria. Styling and logo treatments are then blended to create the “look” of the shoe. Usually, if the shoe functions well and becomes popular with athletes it becomes a “fashion”. Dedicated athletic footwear designers never lose sight of the shoe’s functional purpose. That is why athletic footwear manufacturers are far ahead of regular street footwear makers in their understanding of leg-foot-shoe biomechanics.” (Cheskin, 1987)

Nike has accomplished one of the things they had set about doing, improving performance, but only by shunning proprioception. By using a midsole in athletic footwear, it enables our bodies to exert forces that greatly exceed the amount of force that we would usually be able to deal with.

In the short term it’s a solution to beating your own PB or hitting that target time at a race, but should not be used everyday. Where there are pro’s there has to be con’s; that being the long-term affect of wearing overly cushioned training models. With the sole purpose being that trainers were intended for training.

“Stress. Recover. Improve. You’d think any damn fool could do it. But you don’t. You work too hard and rest too little and get hurt.” (Moore K, 2006) Here lies the problem. Forces exceeding the typical loading rate of running stress the body; We then rest too little, start training again and inevitably get injured as a result of resting too little.

“The vital importance of the foot to gait is only too obvious: no feet, no gait; the lower the functional performance of the feet, the lower the functional performance of the gait.

But the foot’s role in gait has even greater significance, which most podiatrists themselves don’t fully realize or appreciate. The foot’s architectural design and its consequent biomechanical function were responsible for our distinctive erect manner of gait, walking on two feet with a stride.

That accomplishment was perhaps the single most significant development of bioengineering in all evolutionary history. It was responsible for making us human in the first place and the spawning of the human species. More than any other distinctive human capacity the huge brain, language, conceptual thinking, etc. Our unique form of gait, unduplicated in all evolutionary history, was the very seed of our humanity. (Dr. Rossi 1994)

“The noted anthropologist Frederick Wood-Jones states, “Man’s foot is all his own and unlike any other foot. It is the most distinctive part of his whole anatomical makeup. It is a human specialization; it is his hallmark, and so long as man has been man, it is by his feet that he will be known from all other creatures of the animal kingdom. It is his feet that will confer upon him his only real distinction and provide his only valid claim to human status.” To that, Donald C. Johanson, paleoanthropologist and chief of the Institute of Human Origins, Berkeley, California, adds, “Bipedalism is what made us human,” Thus, man stands alone because only man stands. (Dr. Rossi 1994)

It took four million years to develop our unique human foot and our consequent distinctive form of gait, a remarkable feat of bioengineering. Yet, in only a few thousand years, and with one carelessly designed instrument, our shoes, we have warped the pure anatomical form of human gait, obstructing its engineering efficiency, afflicting it with strains and stresses and denying it its natural grace of form and ease of movement head to foot. We have converted a beautiful thoroughbred into a plodding plow horse.” (Dr. Rossi 1994)

“Evidence that barefoot and minimally shod runners avoid RFS strikes with high-impact collisions may have public health implications. The average runner strikes the ground 600 times per kilometer, making runners prone to repetitive stress injuries. The incidence of such injuries has remained considerable for 30 years despite technological advancements that provide more cushioning and motion control in shoes designed for heel–toe running. Although cushioned, high-heeled running shoes are comfortable, they limit proprioception and make it easier for runners to land on their heels. Furthermore, many running shoes have arch supports and stiffened soles that may lead to weaker foot muscles, reducing arch strength. This weakness contributes to excessive pronation and places greater demands on the plantar fascia, which may cause plantar fasciitis. Although there are anecdotal reports of reduced injuries in barefoot populations, controlled prospective studies are needed to test the hypothesis that individuals who do not predominantly RFS either barefoot or in minimal footwear, as the foot apparently evolved to do, have reduced injury rates.” (Lieberman 2009)

It is the interpretations of this study that have sparked debate, on one side you have the barefoot advocates and on the other there are sports professionals that promote the use of modern running footwear. Surfaces are often the focal point of a debate about footwear in general and running is no exception. “There never were tarmac roads throughout evolution” or “The surfaces are too rough/hard to run barefoot” have been arguments used to warrant the use of modern running shoes, whilst the same arguments have been used to dismiss the use of footwear. If we could run barefoot cross-country surely smooth/ flat concrete would be no hassle?

“Some authors suggest that certain types of surfaces are the origin of such injuries. The first critical publications came from medical doctors, who reported observations connected with the “new” type of pain and injuries they were finding in athletes with heavy training load on artificial surfaces.

A few years after the first medical concerns about surfaces were voiced, publications of biomechanical measurements appeared, describing acceleration, force and impact measurements on different types of surfaces. The general comments were that the impact forces at first contact with the surface are higher on most of the artificial surfaces than on natural surfaces (e.g., grass), and that most of the artificial surfaces are not likely to allow any sliding and show a considerably higher resistance against rotation. Statistics published for football players as well as tennis players also support the idea that the surface may be the origin of these injuries.” (Nigg, 1986)

There are companies that have been trying to tackle the playoff between natural gait and “protection”, namely Vibram with their Five Fingers models, Vivobarefoot, Merrell, Brooks, Innov8, Mizuno and finally Nike, which in all should mean that one of the companies should hit the nail on the head right?

Though it appears as if we’re in the midst of yet another marketing war; Brands have taken a foothold in this niche market based on findings published in an article written by Prof. Dan Lieberman titled “Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners” which presents data that impact forces are lower in habitually barefoot runners that adopt a forefoot strike pattern as opposed to habitually shod runners who rear foot strike.

This has led to a boom in the minimal/ barefoot running shoe market, led by Vibram as the company cashing in on the hype.

“The benefits of running barefoot have long been supported by scientific research. And there is ample evidence that training without shoes allows you to run faster and further with fewer injuries. No footwear comes closer to recreating this natural sensation than Vibram FiveFingers®. It allows you to land on your forefoot directly below your center of gravity, resulting in optimum balance, increased stability, less impact and greater propulsion. Running in FIveFingers delivers sensory feedback that improves agility and equilibrium and allows immediate form correction. In addition it stimulates and strengthens muscles in the feet and lower legs. In FiverFingers, you get all the health benefits of barefoot running combined with out patented Vibram® sole that protects you from elements and obstacles in your path” (Vibram 2012)

Quite a statement considering the amount of people who have been injured as a result of using the FiveFingers models.

“I am responding to all of those that hurt themselves with the VFF’s. I am an avid marathon runner that recently switched to Vibrams in February. I will say that because I was so excited about these shoes, I probably started running on them too much too soon. My first two weeks I only put in 3-5 miles with each run. Granted, I did some barefooting on the beach a few weeks before. 

Anyway, I continued my marathon training and didn’t have any big problems, I loved running with them. However, two weeks ago I put a stress fracture on the upper side of my foot, 2nd and 3rd metatarsal. It occurred on a regular, and almost light, run a week after I had run 20 miles. I am so confused and torn what to do/think. I loved running with my VFF’s but received advice from the doctor not to. 
I agree with the whole barefoot movement, but I wonder if I am one of those “classic cases” who jumped on the bandwagon before properly researching all necessary prep work. Also, my doctor said he fears barefooting is the next gravity shoe fiasco where people will only realize their injuries after significant time and it becomes a fad. “ (Brett V, Podiatry Arena, 2010)

“If you follow some of the discussions on barefoot running sites and forum threads, they are trying to dismiss this apparent epidemic of stress fractures in the Vibram Five Fingers as being due to training errors and not really the fault of the Vibrams or the barefoot running. Yet; when a runner gets an injury in a running shoe it the fault of the shoe and not a training error.” (Barefoot Running is Bad, 2010)

Nike had been the major player in the game that had steered clear of the barefoot running movement although samples had popped up on Nike designers personal portfolios, showing that they indeed were thinking along the same lines.

Nike’s most recent running innovation comes in the form of Fly-Knit

“Nike gathered a team of programmers, engineers, and designers to build technologies capable of micro-level manipulation. With machines in place, designers could engineer exactly where they wanted to add structure and flexibility to the knit upper. The next step was figuring out what yarns and fabric variations to use, requiring what seemed like an “endless” amount of prototypes, Shaffer says. The team settled on a feather-light, high-quality polyester yarn of varying elasticity, durability, thickness and strength (and all softer than anything you’ll find at the bottom of your sock drawer). To provide structure, Nike Flywire supportive cables are weft into the knit. The cables loosen and contract with your foot, offering the comfort and ease athletes were looking for. A Lunarlon cushion sole completes the shoe.” (Akitunde 2012)

This is a great innovation in performance footwear and hopefully will pave way for a new breed of modern running shoes with more options to widths and fits available. But still continues the fundamental problem with footwear in general, our bodies need to be able to react to the forces that are acting upon our body without being impeded. Proprioception is necessary to counter the forces of a given activity; so any barrier between the surface and foot leaves the foot still reaching for the floor. Thus wear patterns. The wear pattern is the foot’s way of telling you about your body and how the footwear that you are wearing is impeding it. If there was a material that had the same properties as the tissues within our locomotive systems there would be no consequential injuries as the shoe would become a continuation of the body itself; a masterpiece of evolution that is still evolving.

The debates between the types of footwear that should be used whilst running will continue till the end of time, there is no one shoe for every foot considering that even our own two feet are not the same but the real argument lies in the form of the runner. Running is a skill that has been lost throughout the generations of poor education, and again there is not one set right way to run, as foot strike naturally differs from surface to surface also. As quoted above “the dynamics of gait are altered simply by wearing shoes”, so the natural stride pattern is not possible whilst wearing footwear.

Even after having deeply researched this topic, switched my training routine to test the water and talked to experts in the field it has left me with more questions than answers. Considering the direct correlation between fashionable shoes and foot deformities, the attitudes to running itself ingrained in society and the cost involved with correcting both injured people due to ill fitting footwear and people affected by fashionable styles that do not exercise; it is bewildering to think that shoes with any heel height at all should be on the market.

An extreme take on this argument would be that tobacco companies were forced to withdraw advertising due to the health implications of the product it advertised. Admittedly the outcome (Death) is the ultimate price to pay, but the consequence of foot deformities and the problems that you have to live with as a result and always lead to other deformities forming in other parts of the body, should put into question firstly the companies that are designing, distributing and last of all selling any types of footwear. Poorly educated sales persons are the barrier between making the best of a bad situation and the state of the general public’s health.