Sunday, September 4, 2011

Should we provide Manuals for Running Shoes? ALL running shoes?

[Warning: This is a PMS, angst ridden post about the state of modern society and peoples inability to think for themselves. Kind of - it's about running shoes too. I am sure it will upset someone, but frankly I haven't had my therapeutic dose of chocolate yet, so.. umm.. tough. Deal with it.  Also remember this is my personal view, so if you don't like it, okay by me.  Just remember to keep snarky comments polite. :D]

I am not talking about getting guides or manuals when you buy a pair of VFF's, Merrells or any other minimal shoes.  I am talking about ALL running shoes.  However, how much information should we provide?

Firstly, should we provide a manual for all running shoes?  I was thinking about this the other day.  How much information do you get when you walk into a store and buy a pair of running shoes?  I can tell you - usually zip, nada, nothing.  They will do funky tests, make you run up and down the store, but essentially when you walk out that door you are on your own. Let's face it, how many of us are going to then go on the internet and research how we run? Again, zip, nada.. you get the idea. We have a gleaming pair of $140 shoes.  We just want to take them for a test drive.  We have all seen "Chariots of Fire".  Look at all those action movies - there is a lot of running in them. Hundreds of Hollywood actors heel-striking can't be wrong, right? So why should we need to research this?

Frankly, most of us run wrong.  Ask coaches, elites and those that run for a living and they will probably tell us we are running wrong. Look at the statistics; the hospital admissions and trips to the Physiotherapists.  Running Injuries are common; they cost millions of dollars a year in bills; yet, there isn't a warning label on your shoes.  You don't have a huge sticker that says "This product may seriously damage your health". Why not?

It is clear due to a plethora of  anthropological and anatomical studies, we now know how our bodies are designed.  We know how we are physical built to move. Heck, even Newton and Einstein had laws of Physics and they are integral in the way we are built to walk and run.  Newton and Einstein can't be wrong, can they?  If they are, then Scotty no longer has a catchphrase. So why do we run in a way that is detrimental to us?

Because we are more likely to believe the movies and we have no "free-in the box", "automatically handed out" manuals.  The Human Species is essentially lazy.  As a species our greatest developmental surges happen in times of plenty; when we can spend less time looking for food and more time increasing our grey matter.  This is why we prefer sitting in front of the TV with a bag of chips.  Because through our desire for progress, our food is now easily available and lasts longer than a TV Sit-com re-run.  This is how we are designed to act in a time of plenty. What would you prefer? Chase your food for 3 hours or sit on the couch with an easy to open bag?  I know what I would do if I was given a no-guilt free choice.   

It's the same for everything else.  We get manuals and instructions for everything these days.  Your Kettle, your toaster, probably that easy to open bag of chips.  And we follow them to the letter.  Why? Because it is easier to follow instructions than to think for ourselves.  Why re-invent the wheel, when you can "google" the word "wheel" and in 10 seconds you have a stream of easy information?

When you walk out of that store, there is no manual on how to run. So what do the majority of people do?  They slap on their shoes and they run.  They take the messages they have seen from TV and the movies and they run. Badly.  They then go to the doctors offices and wait to be treated.

So should we put instruction manuals in with our running shoes?  Should there be a 10 page step-by-step instruction leaflet on how to run, along with the usual disclaimers, that if you put your shoes in water you will be electrocuted? Sorry, scrap the last part, I was thinking of the toaster again. You get the idea though.

Is it now time to accept that we are incapable of performing the simple act of running without help? Should ALL shoe companies automatically accept we need instructions?  

In my personal view. Probably.  Even if it's a single sentence that says "Running is a complex sport; check your local library or the internet for more information"

Then there is the issue of what should we put into the manuals if they were provided.  Running isn't a simple concept to distill because there is a huge variable at work here.  Us. The human body.  The glory of the individual.

The thing is how I run is not the same as the way you will run.  I am a short-arse female, of middling years and European descent.  I have wobbly bits in the right AND wrong places.  I have funky toes and screwed up ankles.  My knees bend in different directions.  Okay, I am making myself sound like an extra for the "Muppets" or a horror movie.  Most of all however, is that I am unique. Completely unique. This is the same for every single one of us.  When you have 6 billion variables in the mix, how do you create a prescribed manual on how to run.

Fact is you can't.  This leads into a difficult and perilous situation.  Our uniqueness combined with an innate desire to be lazy means that if someone DID write a manual on how to run, chances are that you will find a large proportion will try and follow it to the letter. Every step will be completed regardless to the fact that step 3, 4, 5, whatever, is actually causing more harm than good?

You have a choice; too much or too little information.

You could write a manual with SO much information that every variable is covered. The manual would contain more pages than "War and Peace" and will either be completely unreadable or just totally ignored.  If the manual WAS read and understood, you still risk the problem that there is one variable you did not cover. As you didn't mention it in your "bible of running", the reader would not think to ask, or make the mental connection.  The ability to consciously think about what you are doing or what you are trying to achieve has been removed.

I fell into this trap when I started minimalist running.  I took ALL of the advice that was given to me and I tried to follow it. All of it.  It was easier to listen to the advice of others than it was to listen to my body.  I was willing to trust others I deemed more knowledgeable, at the expense of trusting myself.  Although I had run longer and further in minimalist shoes than I had ever achieved in conventional shoes, I still had difficulties. It was still hard. Then, one day, I decided to just listen to what my feet were telling me; I went against a lot of the well-meaning advice and then my running fell into place.  I listened to my body and myself - eventually.  Still didn't stop the 4-5 months I spent figuring out the good information from the bad.

TOO much information is a bad thing.  Trusting everything you read is a bad thing.

However, you can go the other way, condensing a complex activity into 2 or 3 sentences; you are giving the basic information and trusting the masses will work it out.  In a society where everyone from the government downwards are so busy covering themselves legally; are we ready to put the trust in people to use common sense and work this out (without holding someone accountable if they personally Fuck it up)?

it's a fine line to walk - or in this case run.  I am not sure there will ever be a right or wrong answer.

Personally I am for giving the power back to the people. Ensuring that the information I give is accurate, even if that means leaving a lot of the "extra" helpful stuff out.  You can never be sure that the "helpful" stuff will actually be true for your target audience.  I am for allowing people to use common sense; to trust themselves and then providing extra help if it is needed.  There will be people that fall through the cracks; that can't handle the lack of immediate, "no effort necessary" approach, but I am putting my faith in my fellow man that this percentage of the human race is smaller than is portrayed in the media.

Still won't stop me putting a disclaimer.  My life of idle meanderings doesn't cover any potential legal bills. :)


  1. Is that the best your PMS can do? :-) :-) :-)
    I loved this post!
    I think every model of running shoes ought to come with a thick instruction booklet since every shoe is different and then shoe companies would have to account for our anatomical differences. There.
    What is more, any human activity, sitting, walking, yawning, peeing ought to be analyzed and have tons of how-to books written about it.
    (I was being sarcastic, in case anybody had any doubts)

  2. I love this, thank you! I went to one "technique training" sesion with my running club, but stomped off half-way through when the instructor told me that "of course you can flex your foot like that, everybody can" and tried to manhandle my leg into doing it in front of everyone ese. Well, no I can't - and after carrying and giving birth to my child, 9 years of ballet and 20 years of running, I think I know what my body can do... I was mainly annoyed at his "all runners should run exactly as I show them, otherwise they're wrong" attitude. Anyway, my move to minimalist running has been practically unguided, based on what I find fun and comfortable, and I love it - and I've never been any good at doing what people tell me anyway. Right, rant over. Am PMS-ing myself and will now go in search of chocolate and wine...