Ten years ago, doctors were telling me I was permanently flawed. My feet were such a mess and my body was so big and cumbersome, I could only risk running with stability shoes and custom-made orthotics. Now, I’m not just better — I’m perfect.
Don’t take it from me; that’s the expert opinion of none other than Dr. Lewis G. Maharam, medical director for the New York City Marathon and “the world’s premier running physician,” as he bills himself. He’s also an online columnist for Runner’s World.
“In 95 percent of the population or higher, running barefoot will land you in my office,” Maharam told The New York Times. That’s because only “a very small number of people are biomechanically perfect.” His opinion was echoed two weeks later on NPR by David Willey, editor in chief of Runner’s World: “The concern I have is that a lot of people, you know, hear about these new shoes and read about the Vibrams and maybe hear about this book called “Born to Run,” which is that bestselling book, and feel like, oh, I can just throw my running shoes away and I’ll just start tomorrow and I’ll become a barefoot runner. You know, if a lot of runners or all the runners out there in America did that tomorrow, the vast majority of them would get hurt very quickly and would have to stop running for a long time.”
And why? Because, Willey says, “The vast majority of people are not blessed in that way. They’ve got some biomechanical inefficiencies.”
Usually, I’d be delighted to learn I’m not only perfect, but blessed. Maybe not delighted enough to ignore the insult, but close. Except the wonderful news about my anatomical godliness has one drawback: it’s not true. That biomechanical gambit is a linguistic card trick. Maharam is flashing “biomechanical” under your eyes and hoping you won’t notice he really means “biological.” To be “biomechanically perfect” doesn’t mean you’ve got some kind of rare bone structure or once-in-a-generation alignment of connective tissue. That would be biological. Biomechanical just means you do it right. If I try to eat a doughnut and bite my hand instead, that’s poor biomechanics. Move my arm a scootch and bullseye the Boston Creme, and voila: I’m the model of perfection.
You’ll hear that “biomechanically perfect” and “blessed” blather a lot. It’s what bothers me most about the barefoot debate. It’s not based on any facts whatsoever. I’d be astonished if Dr. Maharam has ever seen a barefoot runner in his office, or if David Willey knows any barefoot runners who have been injured. It’s a fear tactic which spooks people into buying junk they don’t need — junk which, ironically, could cause the exact injuries they’re trying to avoid.
I love Barefoot Josh’s take on the “blessings” argument at runningbarefoot.org. If he’s such a rare specimen of perfection, Josh wonders, why aren’t podiatrists breaking down his door to examine his wondrous feet?