A Study of Shoes


Yesterday, after a workout with the track team that left my knees buckled and even my fingertips shaking with exhaustion, I unlaced my Asics running shoes amidst a locker room of sweat drenched girls discussing the food they couldn’t wait to consume. I could “dense fact” (as Jim Farrell would say) this moment for pages–dissecting the meaning of the food in our cafeteria, the camaraderie of ten girls who just ran until they dropped (and why the hell they would feel compelled to run around in a circle for 2 or more hours a day,) the cultural significance of showering, and why we talk about what we do in that cement room of yellow metal lockers filled with brand name gear from all over the globe. But for now, I’ll focus on the shoes.

I’ve been thinking a lot about running shoes lately. This is mostly because I am reading the newly famous book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. Telling the awe-inspiring and gut wrenching stories of the ultrarunning population most people have never heard of, the book makes almost anyone who reads it believe in the power and freedom of running barefoot. It convinces its readers that they have been brainwashed (mostly by Nike) into buying shoes that injure them and take away from the perfection of nature. As I read this book, contemplating the theme of consumerism that is present in both Campus Ecology and American Conversations, I think about my own shoes–designed for pronation and currently filled with custom made orthotics. After shin splints and stress fractures that plagued my high school years of running, I was told that I had bowed legs, probably should not be a runner at all based on my body type, and prescribed expensive running shoes and inserts that would “fix” my “problems.”

Part of me desperately wants to believe that all of the money my parents spend on new shoes every 300 miles (as the “experts” recommend) is well-spent. I want to believe that my orthopedic doctor was telling me the truth–not pushing a capitalist agenda and trying to get me to spend money. I want to believe that technology can “heal” me. However, I read this book and I am given a completely different end of the spectrum. I am given data that tells me I am being duped–that I have been lied to for all of my life as a runner and that the only thing I really need to become a super-star athlete are my god-given feet. I am told stories of an ancient mexican tribe whose members can run for days on end without shoes or proper nutrition.

So who do I believe? Do I believe the society that I have been raised in–one of consumption and technology and unending “expert” advice? Or do I trust the guy who was willing to step outside of our completely “civilized”and “advanced” (and arguably brainwashed) world to draw conclusions from the largely ignored corners of the athletic world,the study of history, and the nature of man? Ironically, the man who wanted to buck the trend and reveal something earth shattering has started a new one. It is now cool to “go barefoot.” But, of course, we can’t be entirely barefoot because then there would be no gear to sell. A “Brave New World” sort of twist isn’t it? We need consumption. As evidence of the trend McDougall has begun, two days ago I saw someone running around our college track in Vibrum Five Fingers–the new brand name of barefoot running. These frog-like shoes wrap around each toe in a swamp-colored rubbery casing. Nike has also contributed to the trend–releasing their newer and newer versions of the Nike “free.” Buying these shoes allows you to run like you have no shoes. It sounds pretty ridiculous when I say it like that, but it’s true.

This question of “who do I believe?” is not one that ends with shoes. It is everywhere. It seems like today anyone can back up any argument with endless facts, figures, and evidence. All sides are supported, and there aren’t any clear cut solutions. In fact, most of the time a huge argument occurs over if there’s even a problem (take global warming for example.) In a society driven by capitalist interests and consumerism, it’s hard to know if anyone out there is genuine or honest any more. As we talked about in class on Wednesday, I don’t think we are capable as humans of doing anything without any self interest.

So in this kind of world, how do you develop trust? How do you figure out which issues you are passionate enough to change? How do you live your life knowing you are constantly and deliberately deceived?


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