There are as many reasons for running as there are days in the year, years in my life. But mostly I run because I am an animal and a child, an artist and a saint. So, too, are you. Find your own play, your own self-renewing compulsion, and you will become the person you are meant to be.
- George Sheehan

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Trap of Technology

The beauty of barefoot and minimalist shoes is simplicity.  Something that barefooters are intimately familiar with, and what only a handful of minimalist shoe manufacturers actually understand.

Above is a link to the Skechers Go Run, the company's entry into the minimalist shoe horse race.  The video at the top of the page is mostly good information, regarding foot strikes and biomechanics, the necessity of full flexibility of the foot and the need for a shoe to be able to twist as well as flex, and the need to for the industry to get back to natural running.  But what bugs me about this ad is the assumption that runners need protection ("ZOMG RUNNING IS GOING TO HURT!"), and that the "sensors" on the shoe are going to tell your body how to move.

Hint: you get better feedback from the ground by having less material between your foot and the running surface.  Hence, some of the best minimalist shoes out there are the simplest ones: they just have less crap between you and the ground.

The sensor pods on the Go Run are complete and utter bullshit.  I say that because if you listen carefully to the video, there is not one single piece of hard scientific evidence actually justifying their existence on the shoe.  The guy states: "These sensors are obviously completely decoupled, they're allowed to move so that no matter how you land on the shoe... there is is always going to be data transferred through the shoe through these sensors.  It really is one of the key components of these shoes; you can offer more cushioning but still get a dynamic sense of what is going on with the ground..."

...But HOW, exactly?  I strongly feel that those sensors are nothing but a false aesthetic designed to give buyers a sense of technology being on their side, keeping them safe.  There is no hard proof in that testimony of how the sensors actually function.  We as a running culture have become so accustomed to gadgets on shoes to improve our runs and reduce injuries, that I believe runners come to expect some sort of ground-breaking technology included on even the simplest-at-heart shoe.  It's a little silly, because again, the best minimalist shoes are the ones without the bells and whistles. 

The Nike Free has its own issues, but that shoe's success derives from its fresh simplicity.  The design of the sole is just a bunch of deep-cut grooves along with lighter materials to make the shoe not only lighter, but more flexible than the average running shoe on several planes.

At the end of the day I applaud Skechers for their entry into the minimalist market, and providing potential minimalist runners with another option for them.  Not every shoe works for everyone, so hopefully the Go Run will help some people get back to slightly more natural running and enjoying the sport.  I think it's a mostly honest effort on behalf of the design team, but once again (like the Reebok RealFlex), the Go Run is just one more example of an overly-engineered shoe that doesn't need the bogus gadgets to do what is actually intended.  Clearly the shoe designers think way too hard on these things.

Flat.  Light.  Flexible.  Those are the only things that a good minimalist shoe needs to be worried about.  Leave the sensor pods on the design table.

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