Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Running Debate: Article from SlowTwitch- Shoe Height and Ramp Angle

Excellent article from SlowTwitch  which asks questions beyond the usual barefoot and  minimal orthodoxy vs. not debate.

One of the central tenants here is a discussion of what I have found to be the key benefit of the natural or barefoot running shoes and technique revolution for most of us: a lower ramp angle, heel to toe drop is a good thing as it is a more natural running position and it can more evenly distributes the foot strike impact between fore foot and heel.

Next comes the question of shoe height or cushion to go with that low ramp angle or Ramp Delta as the author Dan Empfield calls it. Once a more natural foot landing is achieved, helped by lower drop, many other factors can come into play including the distance to be covered, the runner's weight and fitness, the course, etc... The race may be between an efficient form with minimal cushioning and the accumulated damage from pounding which eventually shuts down performance.

A quote from the article:

One of these is a shoe I've recently run about a hundred miles in, the Hoka One One Mafate (pictured above). As regards overall height, this is the anti-Newton. Still, this shoe shares in common with Newton a very low ramp delta. I have another Hoka One One on the way to me, the slimmer, lighter Bondi B, pictured below. (I have a sneaking suspicion this might be my triathlon racing flat. We'll see, and I'll report back.)
Hoka One One's designer/owner, Nicolas Mermoud has his own biomechanical rationale: Intramuscular capillaries shut down (says Mermoud) after sustaining a critical mass of pounding-related damage during an event. Therefore, a shoe with increased cushioning lessens the damage, which protects the muscles and lengthens the utility of a muscle during an event.

Is one narrative necessarily wrong? I don't know (they each sound good, don't they?!). I rather think Danny Abshire is right as far as it goes, but, Mermoud's shoe is the new darling of the ultra-runner, because, at a certain point, damage trumps proprioception. Which narrative is operative is probably dependent on runner speed, runner weight, technique, mileage base, and race distance.

I believe there is no wrong narrative but this really about a selection of the appropriate shoes for the particular runner and run at hand. I agree, and have experienced over many miles, that low ramp angle combined with cushion as in the Hokas certainly has its place. I am convinced less "damage" is done per mile with low drop and more cushion. In a race or training situation each runner must balance their fitness, failure point of responsiveness and efficiency gained through proprioception in  lightly cushioned minimal shoes against the benefits of potentially pushing the back that failure point through cushioning.

What do you think? Where do you stand?  Pun intended!


brider (aka David) said...

While I've tried on the Hoka One One Maffete (and hated it), I do think that the idea of zero drop (or very low drop) with some cushioning is the better option for myself. I've got a couple pair of the Merrell Trail Gloves, and I like how they fit, but they're not quite perfect.

Sam Winebaum said...

The Hokas take some "breaking in" to get forefoot flex. Both the Mafetes and Bondi were very stiff out of the box. Took about 40 miles to get decent flex out of them. Mafates were too soft on the road for me until I had about 300 miles of tough trails on them then they worked fine. The front toe box is a bit goofy with that strip running down the middle. The Bondi have a nice open toe box and while stiff at first felt road ready in terms of cushion right away. My preference would be for the very low drop and even a bit less cushion than the Bondi. That would be sweet. Thanks for reading. I see you put my blog on your list. I will do the same with yours on mine.