Will Barefoot Running be the death of trainers?

A growing fad.

The barefoot running revolution has taken another stride across the Atlantic this week. Dr Mick Wilkinson, a barefoot runner himself and one of the first people to finish the Great North Run completely barefoot in 2011, told the attendees of the British Science Festival that he would advise anyone taking up running for the first time to run barefoot.

This is welcome news for barefoot running fans as most of those who choose to run barefoot, or even in minimalist shoes, still turn heads in the park or on the track and could really use some good scientific evidence in support of the idea, instead of the same old poor arguments.

Barefoot running has experienced a surge in popularity in the US over recent years thanks to a book called Born to Run and popularity is beginning to grow in the UK.

This advice from Dr Wilkinson came with the sensible caution that people should build up slowly to barefoot running, perhaps moving first on to very lightweight flat-soled flexible footwear while their feet become used to the practise. A sudden switch to barefoot running can cause a difference of an inch in your normal footfall from regular footwear.

The research carried out by Dr Wilkinson, a sport and exercise scientist at Northumbria University in Newcastle, found that while you need a gradual start you should begin barefoot running right on to a hard surface such as a running track, ignoring the instinct to sick to grassy softness.

Dr Wilkinson went on to warn that parents should steer clear of expensive trainers, saying that old-fashioned flat soled plimsoll shoes are preferable as they teach children to run in a more natural manner on the middle part of the foot. Once children learnt to run in fat bottomed shoes it’s a difficult habit to break as adults have to be weaned off them slowly.

The running shoe industry has grown substantially over the last few decades with companies spending vast amounts on researching ever more hi-tech trainers, but surprisingly levels of running injuries have not fallen.

The belief among barefoot running advocates is that the heavily cushioned heels of regular trainers are detrimental to people’s feet as the shape of the shoe causes us to hit the ground heel first, in what has come to be known as "heel striking".

The reputation of barefoot runners in the US is not always a pleasant one, with general opinion being that they act superior, lording it over runners who choose to wear traditional training shoes. Hopefully this is one characteristic that will not make it across the pond as the movement grows.

While perhaps we will soon see the fall of the traditional inflated trainer, named as gaudy dinghies by Harry Mount in the Telegraph, don’t expect this change to happen over night (or even within the next generation).

The only realistic solution is that parents and schools recognise the benefits of unheeled sports shoes. If children are started on them early then perhaps they will be able to avoid developing the bad shoe habits that we as a society have sadly stepped into over the last century.

The barefoot running revolution Photograph: Getty Images

Billy Bambrough writes for Retail Banker International at VRL financial news.
 

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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