The sport of track and field
has a long history dating back to the Ancient Greek Olympics and other
festivals in which athletics played a key role.
There have been many books and articles detailing the ancient
Games and the modern Olympic games, which began in 1896.
However, few have looked into this sports
influence and development in the
The first official national
track championship was put on by the New York Athletic Club in 1876,
the sport got to this point started much earlier. The
development and modernization of the
sport seemed to occur via two avenues which were a pure running one and
carnival or athletic contest one. The
final combination of these two different avenues resulted in the modern
of track and field. Both of these
avenues developed in
The Carnival pathway to modern
track can be traced back a long way.
It’s roots our in the ancient Greek Olympics, but there are many
examples of where the athletic carnival could have come from. The longest sport festival in somewhat recent
times was the Tailteann Games which began in 1829 B.C and lasted until
A.D. These games were held in
The purely running aspect of
track can first be seen in Colonial America in the 17th
century. Races called “she-shirt”
contests were held at weddings and other festivals where women would
race for a
smock or occasionally a husband. In
addition to these, competitions such as Sir Francis Nicholson’s
By 1840, running competitions
were so developed in the
The first organized series of
track meets was started by the NYAC in 1870.
They were held twice a year and called the spring and fall games. In 1876 it was decided that a national
championship for track and field was needed.
So the 1876 Fall Games were chosen as the host meet for these
games. Thus the first American track and
field championships were held. That same
year the first collegiate championships for track were held. They were termed the Intercollegiate
Association of Amateur Athletes of America (IC4A) championships. For
three years, the NYAC hosted the national championships.
By 1879 however there were enough clubs
established in the
Until the 1880’s the sport of
The sport of track and field
as it is in current times, a combination of running, throwing, and
competitions, can be seen to develop through numerous pathways to
By James Nelson
As Darwin theorized, individuals with favorable characteristics will
survive, allowing them to produce offspring, and in doing so, allow them to pass
their genes onto their offspring. In other words, it's a case of the
survival of the fittest. Through this process, the body has developed into an
amazing machine. It can heal itself, endure extreme conditions, and tolerate
constant abuse. The foot is no exception to this. Through evolution, the foot
has been shaped and conditioned in order to
respond most productively to running. Still, for some reason, man
thinks that he can improve the workings of the foot through shoes. However, most
shoes produced today are actually more harmful than they are helpful,
including the traditional running shoe. Though these shoes may cushion shock and
protect from enemies like glass, they also alter natural running form, which
will ultimately slow you down.
II. The Running Motion
In order to fully understand the harm that traditional running shoes
are inflicting on our bodies, we should first look at the foot and how it
reacts naturally to running. In the running gait, there are 6 phases, which
are (in order of occurrence) 1-the strike, 2-midsupport, 3-take off, 4-follow
through, 5-forward swing, and 6-the descent. “The foot’s function during the support phase of running is twofold.
At heel strike, the foot acts as a shock absorber to the impact forces and then
adapts to the uneven surfaces. At push-off, the foot functions as a rigid
lever to transmit the explosive force from the lower extremity to the running
surface. In a heel-strike running gait, initial contact of the foot is on the
lateral aspect of the calcaneus with the subtalar joint in supination…At
initial contact, the subtalar joint is supinated. Associated with this
supination of the subtalar joint is an obligatory external rotation of the tibia. As
the foot is loaded the subtalar joint moves into a pronated position until
the forefoot is in contact with the running surface. It is an estimated 80
percent of distance runners use a heel-strike pattern…the plantar
calcaneonavicular ligament acts as a spring by returning the arch to its normal position
after it has been stretched” (Arnheim/ Prentice, p 448, 453-4)
What this all means is that for majority of the distance runners, they
will land with the outside edge of their heel and roll inwards and towards
the toes at the same time. While this is happening, the arch is flattening, and
then springing back into its normal position, moving the runner forward.
If this is a natural movement, then why do companies create shoes to
“fix” this movement? With the aid of “roll bars” and “medial posts”, pronation is
all but eliminated, under the false pretense that this motion is bad. After
all, if knew it was good, then there wouldn’t be these devices in the first
place. However it would be in the best interest of the majority of the runners
out there to shy away from the aforementioned shoes that employ these
structures. Even excessive pronators can be conditioned into pronating less.
Rather than fixing the symptom, we should fix the problem. While the exact cause
of excessive pronation is undetermined, it seems as though most excessive
pronation occurs when shoes (with “motion control” devices) are worn.
Excessive pronation is not a favorable characteristic because it
“results in a less powerful and efficient force. This excessive pronation has also
been linked to various foot and leg ailments such as stress fractures,
plantar fasciitis, tibial tendonitis, and medial knee pain.” (Arenheim/
Prentice p 455)
One theory for the development of excessive pronation is that people
think that the natural pronation that occurs is bad, so they go out and buy shoes
to help correct this. When they wear the shoes, the body will try and pronate
even more, because now, the natural motion is inhibited by the medial post,
which then magnifies the problem. In order to reverse this problem, one
should actually work their way backwards. First, they should go back to a
weaker “control” shoe. Once, they’re endured their “excessive pronation”,
they should turn to something neutral. From there, they can adopt the normal
progression or “regression” to minimalism/ barefoot running, which will be
explained in the last section.
Many people believe that through the use of orthotics, one can help
reduce this pronation, but people are slowly learning that this just isn’t the
case. You can’t simply throw an orthotic in a shoe and hope that this alleviates
the problem. “Orthotics do not account for a runner’s technique
adaptations and may exacerbate injury.” (Bartlett, p 90) Orthotics actually inhibits
the natural flexion in your arch that occurs in the midsupport phase, which
could actually accentuate the problem further.
III. The Cushion Myth
In the today’s society, there is no such thing as too much of a good
thing. Frightening enough, many runners apply this mantra for when they go to
the store and purchase running shoes. More times than not, the heavily
cushioned shoes that feels like pillows on their feet are the ones that leave the
store. Interestingly enough however, it is now apparent that excessive
cushioning is one of the last things we need in our running shoes. Gels, air
pockets, and columns of shocks have all been drilled into our heads to be great
shock absorbers for running footwear. After careful research however, this
is not the case at all. The heavily cushioned shoe could be causing you more
injuries than you might think.
“We found that the greater the instability the material produced, the
greater the impact.” (CoolRunning.com) This research shows that any sort of
cushioning in the heel area is an area that is unstable. While the materials do
absorb some shock, the body itself outperforms any sort of gimmick a shoe
company would like you to believe. “It’s been shown that when people land on
thick soft surfaces, they land harder, with straight legs. The leg won’t
bend and sink down, which is a very effective shock absorber. The increased
impact with straight legs overcomes the little advantages the shoe has.”
(CoolRunning.com) If you imagine yourself jumping on an overstuffed pillow, two things
will happen. The first being, more likely than not, you will go through the
pillow and hit the ground with a fair amount of force. The second, being that
you will probably lose your balance and fall over.
IV. No Support for Support
Another gimmick that shoe manufacturers like to harp on would be that
their shoes offer support. From there, it is difficult to figure out why one
person should require this “support” in a running shoe. Surely our ancestors
didn’t wish they had more support when they were running barefoot in the Great
Rift Valley, so why do we require it now in our running shoes?
In adherence to the 8th overarching concepts in athletic training
rehabilitation, external support should only be utilized to make the
transition between slower and faster velocity exercises safer. Nowhere does it
state “just because”, which is what the shoe companies are saying in regards
to supportive structures in their shoes. To wear a shoe with a very
supportive upper is only hurting yourself in the long run (no pun intended). The
external support your shoe provides is only doing the work that muscles in your
foot should have been doing all along. Without utilizing these muscles in
your feet, you are essentially weakening yourself. In turn, muscles that
are stunted or babied, will not be able to handle more intense work and
faster velocities, thus you’re preventing yourself from reaching your full
potential. This is only one of the ways in which the upper of a shoe works against
your body. Another would be friction. Friction can come in many different
forms for distance runners. One would be the common blister, which occurs
from constant rubbing between the surface of the skin and another surface
(shoe’s upper) and it would be very difficult to get a blister from running
If you think that you can get blisters from the contact of the bottom
of the foot with the road, think again. “The skin on the plantar surface
(sole) of the foot is more resistant to the inflammatory effects of abrasion than
skin on the other parts of the body.” (Warburton)
Another point of contact (friction) that one should be careful of
concerning the upper would be the back of the feel where the shoe ends up top.
There, a notch sits, called the Achilles tendon protector. However, after
careful investigation, we soon learn that this name is quite misleading.
“Bursitis affects the superficial bursa over the Achilles tendon insertion and
can be caused by blows or by friction from the heel tab.” (Bartlett, p 49)
Ideally, shoes would have a non-supportive upper and the heel tab would
eliminate, preventing such bursitis.
V. Where are you?
Another thing one should look at would be the simple weight issue. On
average a running shoe weighs around 12 ounces per size 9 (the weight will
obviously increase exponentially). Bill Bowerman, former head coach for the
University of Oregon and co-founder of Nike, was a firm believer in shaving any
unnecessary weight from shoes. He calculated that for every ounce on a
shoe was 55 lbs. a runner had to carry over the course of a mile
(nikerunning.com). This is an important concept in regards to barefoot running for reasons
such as the obvious economy and proprioception.
It’s a well known fact that it takes more energy to move more weight.
With that in mind, it should be no surprise that it takes more energy to
wear a heavy training sneaker opposed to a bare foot. “Oxygen consumption has
been shown to be 4.7% higher while wearing shoes (approx 700 g per pair).”
(Driscoll) While one might want to call the added weight to your feet
as “weight training”, which it technically is, the additional weight also
hinders your natural form. Imagine yourself lifting up your arm. Now imagine
lifting up your arm with a 20 lb weight. You now lose that free range of
motion because it is now inhibited due to the addition of weight on your arms
(extremities). The same thing can be said for the weight of shoes on
your legs which are also extremities, but obviously to a lesser extent.
While additional weight hinders the natural motion of the legs in the
running cycle, proprioception, or the ability to sense the position and
location and of the body and its parts (dictionary.com) diminishes. While you’re
probably saying to yourself “Who cares if I know where my feet are- I know
they’re attatched to me”, the significance of knowing where your body parts are
in the surrounding environment should not be downplayed. On more than one
occasion have there been cases made that “footwear increases the risk of ankle
sprains by decreasing the awareness of foot position or by increasing the
leverage arm and consequently the twisting torque around the ankle during a
stumble.” (sportsci.com) What instantly comes to mind is snagging your foot on a
root or pothole while running, and twisting your ankle because your sense of
proprioception was skewed, due to the additional, unnatural weight of
your training shoes.
VI. Now What?
Hopefully at this point, you have begun to realize that the image of
current running shoes is quite far from the truth. While they’re supposed to
“protect you from the constant pounding of running” and “support your feet”, you
now know that this is old science and advertising. After all, shoe
companies must have a tough time selling shoes that don’t feel like you’re walking on
air. Instead, a movement towards shoes that work with the body, not against
it, should occur. One company that has realized the benefits of barefoot
training and that their current science might be backward is Nike.
This past summer, Nike launched a shoe called the “Free 5.0.” The
concept behind this shoe is very similar to what has already been presented.
The “Free” is designed to mimic barefoot running, yet still offer enough
protection against everyday enemies, i.e. glass, rocks, etc. The sole is very
light and has a grid pattern deeply cut into it. This allows for the foot to
move as naturally as possible, while the thin outsole provides protection
against the aforementioned enemies. The upper of this shoe is also very dynamic,
which allows the foot to do its own thing, which in turn eliminates blisters
or bursitis. It is also important to keep in mind that Nike does not
market this as a training shoe; so much as it does a “tool”. To cut down injuries,
the swoosh felt that it should only be used in workouts and strides, a few
times a week. While Nike has poured a lot of resources into the development of
this shoe, in the end, it isn’t barefoot running.
Like anything else in life, it is always better to ease into something
new to minimize consequences and running barefoot is no exception. It would
be unrealistic to take off your shoes and go run for 10 miles on the road
one day. It would not be surprising that this person would suffer an injury
within the first week of this abrupt training. Instead, the movement to barefoot
running should be a slow and gradual one.
The first step in this process would be to ditch your current shoes
(assuming that you wear some sort of highly cushioned or motion control shoe.)
From there, we should select a shoe that offers less cushioning and no
motion control. Once you’ve grown accustomed to this type of running
(anywhere from one to three pairs) you can make the next step to training in even
lighter shoes. Since there are many models of racing flats, one might want to
choose a heavier shoe at first, to even make the transition that much easier.
As you adapt to the flats (and your flats wear out) you can slip into
something even lighter. While running barefoot is very difficult this day in age, one
could choose to stop the progression here. After all, racing flats have many
favorable characteristics over normal training shoes. Flats are light
in weight, have little to no support, and tend the have very minimal
cushioning. Most models are just stripped down versions of training shoes.
If your body is adjusting well to minimalism, the logical next step
would be one of two things. You could either use the Nike Free as your primary
training shoe, or you could choose to run barefoot. It would probably be best
if you used the Free as a transition into actual barefoot running. When
running barefoot however, one must keep in mind that they should find a place
in which they can run with minimum risk of injury from debris, etc. because it
takes time to callous the soles of the feet. While this may be a pain (pun
intended) in the beginning, one can reap long term benefits from shedding their
shoes. One important thing to note is while majority of the shoes out there
work against the body, it is important to sometimes wear shoes. The reason
that instantly comes to mind would be cold weather, for obvious reasons
(frostbite for example) and the occasional necessity of traction that shoes offer.
When Leonardo Da Vinci once said “The human foot is a work of art and a
masterpiece of engineering” (Driscoll), he knew exactly what he was
talking about. Through Darwin’s theory of evolution, the body of man has
transformed into a high performance machine. The body is well equipped to handle
the stresses that come from running. Man went thousands of years without
ever wearing shoes, yet today, we are told that we have to in order to
prevent injuries. It has become apparent that while shoe companies may or may
not know that the shoes they are currently producing may cause harm, they
continue to do so in order to increase their profit margins. Not only do the majority
of the shoes on the current market make you more prone to injury, they also
can inherently retard your development of strength that is related to
Through this research, it has become apparent that perhaps we’ve been
wearing the best footwear for running all along.
Arnheim, Daniel D. and William E. Prentice. Principles of Athletic
10th ed. McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2000.
Bartlett, Roger. Sports Biomechanics: Reducing Injury and Improving
New York: Routledge, 1999.
Daniels, Jack interviewed by James Nelson via e-mail. 15 Dec. 2004
Driscoll, Dennis G. Barefoot Running: A Natural Step for the Endurance
18 Nov 2004.
“Proprioception”. 13 Nov. 2004.
Glossary. 13 Nov 2004.
Hawley, John A. Handbook of Sports Medicine and Science: Running.
Soft Soles Could B Hurting Runners. 18 Nov. 2004.
Warburton, Michael. Barefoot Running. 18 Nov. 2004.