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Americans Long Way From Running Barefoot


So, the science of barefoot running may now be clearer, but what about the business? Companies spend fortunes every year advertising the latest running shoes, and we buy them by the millions.

Kristian Foden-Vencil, of Oregon Public Broadcasting, has some reaction to the barefoot running news from what we might call Americas athletic shoe capital.

KRISTIAN FODEN-VENCIL: The Portland Metropolitan area is where Nike is based. Adidas has its U.S. headquarters here, as do other athletic brands like Columbia Sportswear and LaCrosse. So news that running barefoot may put less stress on your feet might be expected to put the cat among the local pigeons.

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FODEN-VENCIL: But at the place where local runners go to buy their shoes, the owner of the predictably named Portland Running Company, Dave Harkin, exhibits a runner's calm.

Mr. DAVE HARKIN (Owner, Portland Running Company): Americans especially, were not set up to run barefoot.

FODEN-VENCIL: The bottom line, he says, is that if youre a dedicated runner, youre going to get injured because the whole idea is to push the limit. And ever since Nike first created a spongy sole using a waffle iron, shoe companies have been using technology to try and reduce those injuries. Harkin concedes running barefoot is good for you. But, he says, with all the glass, stones and assorted litter on American streets, its not going to reduce injuries.

Mr. HAWKING: I think if we made everybody run barefoot, there would be a slaughter of experience. People come back and be not only really, really sore, but other things take place when you run barefoot that arent that great.

FODEN-VENCIL: Local running blogger Heather Daniel agrees.

Ms. HEATHER DANIEL (Blogger, HeatherDaniel.org): You know, back in the day, we werent running on concrete. We were running on the plains that were in nicely padded forests or something - you can imagine something like that. Now, we have concrete and asphalt, and thats just really not nice to your feet.

FODEN-VENCIL: And what are you hearing from businesses - Nike, Adidas, Reebok? Have you heard of how theyre reacting?

Mr. DANIEL: You know, when you look at Nike, a lot of their new shoes, at least their shoes that the runners are interested in, are very minimal. I think the idea is that they want to move toward that - when you look at the Nike Free, which is another style of shoe thats supposed to simulate barefoot running.

FODEN-VENCIL: Its true. Picking up a Nike Free is odd. You expect the weight of a standard, 14-ounce shoe. But at about 5 ounces, it feels very insubstantial.

So, is Nike worried about the new study? They dont seem to be quaking in their boots. In a written statement, they say runners have unique needs that require various levels of structure, support and cushioning, and that they offer different shoes to serve different types of runners.

Predictably, other companies are trying to take advantage of the barefoot-running movement. Lebron sells what can only be described as a toe sock made of thin rubber. Each little piggy gets its own pad, and the idea is that it's like running barefoot, but youre protected if you tread on dog poo.

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FODEN-VENCIL: The outdoor store REI sells them. And Thomas Bussell(ph) is both a salesman and an evangelist.

Mr. THOMAS BUSSELL (Salesman, REI): People seem to be loving them. I think this barefoot movement has definitely gained some steam.

FODEN-VENCIL: So, companies here dont think this new revelation is going to put them out of business. They think dedicated runners may incorporate some barefoot running into their weekly regiment. But the rest of us can be relied on to buy fancy athletic shoes in preparation for that run - even if we never quite make it off the couch.

For NPR News, Im Kristian Foden-Vencil in Portland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kristian Foden-Vencil
Kristian Foden-Vencil is a veteran journalist/producer working for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He started as a cub reporter for newspapers in London, England in 1988. Then in 1991 he moved to Oregon and started freelancing. His work has appeared in publications as varied as The Oregonian, the BBC, the Salem Statesman Journal, Willamette Week, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, NPR and the Voice of America. Kristian has won awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. He was embedded with the Oregon National Guard in Iraq in 2004 and now specializes in business, law, health and politics.