I am fascinated by evolution. Why does the human body look and function the way it does? More specifically, why are we, the most intelligent species to date, experiencing problems more frequently and to a greater intensity than our ancestors experienced hundreds of thousands of years ago? I thought we would have it all figured out by now.
One area I am especially intrigued by is running, and how it relates to today’s growing shoe industry. Without debate, endurance running is a significant part of our evolutionary heritage.
Bear with me for a bit…
Approximately 2.8 million years ago there were major shifts in the environment. Among other things, African land began drying out resulting in largely open habitats. This had an important impact on how humans used the surrounding environment to gather food.
As the world’s climate changed, and food became further and further dispersed, humans began to evolve into a bipedal species, as we are today. Bipedalism – using only two legs for locomotion – became more advantageous to trek the long distances required for food. We exchanged speed for endurance.
So how did they get food? Did they use weaponry? Considering projectile technology, such as putting a stone point on the end of a spear, was invented less than 300,000 years ago, this would not have been an option. For over 2 million years the human species had to kill faster and stronger animals without projectile weapons. How did they not starve?
They ran other animals to death! This form of hunting, known as persistence hunting, is a technique in which hunters use a combination of running, walking, and tracking to pursue prey to the point of exhaustion. While humans can sweat to reduce body heat (and still move at the same time), their quadrupedal prey would need to slow from a gallop in order to pant. Eventually, the quadruped’s uneven ratio of galloping to panting (while walking) would lead to exhaustion, allowing a human to easily kill it (if it didn’t die on its own) after several hours of being chased, found, and chased again.
I give you this brief detail to lay the foundation of my fascination with running. I was amazed when I first learned of persistence hunting. I thought it was bad enough just driving to the Wendy’s across town. I can’t imagine walking, running and tracking animals for a hundred miles waiting for it to collapse – just to eat!
Then another thought occurred to me, and I became even more amazed – they didn’t have running shoes! How could they run distances that make marathons look like a stroll in the park without a pair of Nike Free Trainer 5.0 V6 iD?
Early hominids ran barefoot (or the equivalent of today’s most basic moccasin) for distances that are unfathomable for most without the chronic injuries that plague even today’s casual weekend runner.
It’s Worth Asking…
Do we have to wear shoes while running? Do they really do what we think they do?
Or better yet, do we have to follow certain ways of life that other people accept as fact? What if normal is not normal at all? What if some conventional wisdom is based on assumptions that are, ironically, not wise?
I don’t think it’s a question of right or wrong, but rather “Do we have a choice?” Or was it just given to us and we felt forced to accept it?
Maybe your injured sister-in-law is wrong about a lot of things – like wearing shoes. Has she mistaken comfort with health?
Traditional running shoes are looked at as if they are a nonnegotiable part of running. As if there are no other options. What if today’s conventional wisdom is wrong? Think about it: we accept running in traditional running shoes as being normal, yet they have only been around for 40 years. Spoiler Alert: Humans have been running for millions of years. Not so traditional.
It’s easier to run in shoes; thus, marketable. Many running shoes are extremely comfortable and allow runners to effortlessly run immediately after purchase. Practice running? Are you crazy?
In addition, shod runners tend to heel strike and “bounce along” while running, resulting in large jolts of force through their ankles, knees, hips and spine. They are more likely to forego aspects of motor control and proper running technique, as it is made easier to run with less energy by relying on excessive padding, motion control and arch support. Shod runners also experience common ailments such as shin splints, patellar tendonitis, toe deformities, bunions, plantar fasciitis, among other things, at a much greater frequency than barefoot runners.
Barefoot (or similar) runners experience these problems as well, but because barefoot running is self-limiting, runners are more likely to correct technique errors immediately. Would one heel strike while running barefoot on pavement? No, because it would hurt!
Shoes desensitize this feeling, allowing it to persist for longer periods of time. When shod runners begin to experience discomfort of the back, neck, knee, shin, etc., it is often times too late to correct. The pain is caused by an accumulation of errors made over a decade’s time.
I do not have my own scientific studies to back these claims. What’s made even clearer is that I don’t need them. I know from my own experience that the new and improved shoes we are creating today are becoming the problem rather than the solution.
People would scoff at the idea we start implementing Chinese Foot Binding to children. Well, we actually have…
The same logic can be applied to rugby and football. How could rugby be safer than football? Less padding. Rugby is self-limiting; football is not.
Why am I interested in this? I think it transcends running.
What Does This Have to Do with Our Personal Why?’s
Undoubtedly, the most common rebuttal to running barefoot is “Why aren’t professional long distance runners running barefoot considering all the supposed benefits?”
I get this question a lot, and a look of “What’s wrong with you?”, as I personally do most of my running in sandals similar to what the twelve disciples wore.
I remember the first time I was asked this question. My first thought was simple – they were brainwashed by shoe companies and didn’t even know about barefoot running. Essentially, I was smarter than they were at a sport that pays their bills, while I only do it for leisure.
Then I realized how stupid that sounds. How would they not know?
The answer, like many, resides in the simple question: Why? Why are they running?
They are running to win. They are running to go faster than anyone else. They are trying to run the most miles with the least amount of energy. They are running to provide for their family.
Why am I running? For my physical and mental well-being – that’s it.
Maybe I could run faster while wearing traditional running shoes. Maybe I could wear a pair of shoes that expresses my personality. There are so many advantages to wearing shoes – but I don’t care about any of them. Because they don’t support my Why?.
In the context of my personal Why?, barefoot (or sandal) running has more benefits than shod running. There are, of course, risks involved in forgoing traditional running shoes– just not as many risks as wearing traditional running shoes.
I’m not trying to tell you that you should throw away all of your shoes, as there is nothing magical about barefoot running. What I am trying to say, though, is that you don’t have to wear shoes. You have a choice; despite what conventional wisdom tells us.
If the benefits and risks of shoes are aligned with your Why?, you should wear shoes. If they are not, you should not wear shoes. Mind blowing, I know!
How Does This Relate to Personal Finance?
Do we have to use a credit card? Do we have to build credit? Do we have to drive “safe” cars (Funny how safe cars often look the best as well)? Do we have to go on similar vacations as our friends?
Is it possible that building our credit score is antagonistic to our goals? But we were told everyone is supposed to have a good credit score… How could this be?
Maybe your broke sister-in-law is wrong about a lot of things – like money. Has she mistaken income with wealth?
Why are you spending? Why are you giving? Why are you saving? Why are you investing?
Answering those questions is critically important in attaining financial fitness. If we don’t, we will inevitably be distracted from what’s most important to us. We will be tempted to follow paths that lead to destinations of regret, despite our intentions. “Direction, not intention, leads to destination”.
My opinions on how to handle money address my Why?. One that I think many of us share. These principles lead us down predictable paths that lead us to predictable destinations. I’m not ignorant to the fact that these opinions may be different than yours. And that’s okay.
In fact, I would actually advise some people to leverage as much debt as they can, invest with borrowed money, put everything on a credit card and try to earn as many rewards as possible, buy a house as soon as a bank approves them, and exploit every 0% financing deal they come across.
For example, if one’s entire well-being (their Why?) is predicated on the amount of money that is in their bank account, I would urge them to do everything I just mentioned. They might end up miserable, but they also might end up a billionaire!
I do none of these, but only because they don’t satisfy my criteria of Why?. My Why? is predicated on financial freedom, opportunity, spiritual/intellectual/physical growth, quality relationships with family and friends, and being a good role model to my child. That’s why we try our best to follow a predictable path – in the hopes that it leads us to a predictable future.
There is, of course, a chance that I leave money on the table. Or I don’t live as comfortably as I could have. Or I have to say “no” more than I would like. But remember, money is not my Why?. It is simply a tool used to help satisfy my Why?.
I can’t say with confidence where a debt-ridden lifestyle will lead. Statistically speaking, we can assume it leads nowhere, but there is always a chance it turns out great.
I do, however, know where a debt-free lifestyle leads. That’s why I chose it. I didn’t want to take the risk of following another path. I know where my destination is, and living these financial principles points me in that direction.
There are always going to be trade-offs. The only way to consistently make the correct trade-off is to put the decision into context of your Why?. If there are two options, but only one of them supports your Why?, then your decision becomes quite simple. You have a process in which the right decision is made by default.
Taking a minute and honestly communicating our Why? is extremely powerful. It frees us from the minutiae that fill most of our day.
Are there things I am doing or obligations that must be met that don’t support my Why? I’m a fool not to change. But how do I know if something needs to be changed? Answer the simple question…Why am I doing it?
Question: What is your Why? Why are you spending, saving, investing and giving? Given all the distractions by friends, family, media, etc., how do you stay committed to your Why?