What makes an expert an expert?

I followed an interesting article today that appeared in my email inbox. The topic was about minimalist running. As a triathlete, coach and physician I was eager to read the opinion of another sports medicine physician regarding padding in shoes.

The author responsibly brought up the fact that runners from other cultures…Kenya for example, grow up running barefoot as a matter of life circumstances, and that as a result, their feet are well adapted to run without shoes, and without shoe padding.

Check. I can accept that. Sometimes I wish I’d grownup totally barefoot. I distinctly remember in elementary school the first time I wore a pair of expensive Reebok running shoes that my parents had bought for me. I always loved running sports, mostly soccer and then later in college, ultimate. But as a 9 year old I remember slipping on those running shoes for the first time, taking my first few steps and feeling that oh-so-wonderful sensation of my heel being cushioned by the thick sole of the shoe.

It was magnificent and revelatory. I longed for that cushy sensation and stuck my heel out with every step so that I could feel that sensation over and over again. it shaped the way I ran from age 9 onward. What I wouldn’t give to have a video of my running from age 8 to age 10. What would have looked different? Well I can tell you that I felt different.

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It was magnificent and revelatory. I longed for that cushy sensation and stuck my heel out with every step
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Back to playing soccer…I loved the sport..I lived, ate, breathed and slept soccer. I was captain of our first girls team in high school, I played every position including goalie, I even played an age group up when they couldn’t field a talented goalie for the 15-17 year old state traveling team. But one thing seemed unfair…soccer cleats didn’t have padding! How was I supposed to run and run fast? No one could ever answer this for me and I suffered from heel pain, plantar fasciitis and used custom molded orthotics in my soccer cleats and still always had pain. (Could that be why I never pursued my dream of being on the national team?)

Back to the article I was reading today…after mentioning that the Kenyan runners had grown up running barefoot and there feet had adapted, he explained that you can’t simply remove a shoe of someone who has grown up running WITH them. So far so good. I would presume, and it has been my experience that there is a fair amount of adaptation needed by changing foot support dramatically.

He then goes on to talk about injuries & padding in the shoes and says…it helps! (helps what exactly? He didn’t specify..does it minimize ground force reaction? does it reduce injury?) The next paragraph then listed the litany of running injuries suffered by Americans…a list longer than I was able to brainstorm on my own. It read like an encyclopedic entry for any lower extremity injury known to sports physicians.

My mind jumped to a logical conclusion…that despite the presence of padded & supportive running shoes, Americans still suffer a large number of injuries so perhaps…just maybe…the padding isn’t helping?

I know that in my case, as a 9 year old…the padding gave me a false sense of comfort. I deliberately changed the way that I ran to take advantage of the extra padding. When the padding wore out or got thin I replaced my shoes (well, my parents replaced them). when I played the sport that was my passion, I paid with terrible pain because my running had adapted to the padded shoes, yet I was playing with non-padded cleats. Padded & elevated running shoes of course had no place on the soccer field as they provided no support or traction for fast, lateral movements and the incidence of turned ankles was already high enough.

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I was irritated with this so called “expert’s” conclusions about the benefits of padded running shoes. If there are a litany of injuries plaguing American runners then how can you suggest that the shoes we’ve all been wearing since the 80s are helping?
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I was irritated with this so called “expert’s” conclusions about the benefits of padded running shoes. If there are a litany of injuries plaguing American runners then how can you suggest that the shoes we’ve all been wearing since the 80s are helping?

I’m not going to suggest definitively that all American runners should ditch their running shoes, but I will suggest that you need to read and scour every piece of advice you read with a critical eye and in light of facts that you know, experiences that you’ve had and finally filter then through your own perception.

Does that mean that my opinion is more right than the authors? Certainly not, but I know that I could write a convincing “expert” opinion and reach the opposite conclusion of the sports doc. So, who is more correct?

What do you think about the benefits or lack thereof with padded running shoes?

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