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Breathing in the forest air, my heartbeat and footfall are settling into rhythm as I climb the trail... The autumnal canopy is scattering bronze, copper and golden jewels like a carpet beneath my feet. Ducking under a spiderweb laced with diamonds of morning dew, I see the stag as he scampers deeper into the forest.... My muscles and heart are pumped as I push up and out of the tree line and onto the ridge. Climbing up onto the top of the world, and a panorama I silently soak in. A buzzard lazily flaps away from the cairn. Now the fun begins as I run down the trail, twisting, turning, feeling every contour of the earth beneath the soles of my feet. A log to jump, a branch I scoop under, my feet going quicker, quicker, dancing down into the tree line as a fox darts across my path.... This blog is based on tales of my trail and ultra running exploits. Enjoy!!!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Cherish your Child's Feet...

I have chosen to write about this topic as it is something I feel strongly about and I would like to raise more awareness. 

There is nothing quite as pure or delicate as a newborn baby's hand or foot. Photographed for their beauty and put in picture frames and cards the little hands and feet are miniatures of ourselves to cherish.....
We dress our babes in little woollen, soft leather booties as they wriggle in their prams and start to learn to crawl... A child's foot starts as a bundle of cartilage growing and developing into a mature foot at around 18 years. By then it consists of 28 bones supported by an array of muscles, ligaments and tendons. A structure that has evolved over millions of years in order for our species to walk, run, play, hunt and gather.....

Call me an anorak who is jumping on the "Barefoot" wagon or somebody who gets easily swept along with the latest fad, but when it comes to children and how my son will develop and grow throughout his life then I  take things seriously.... 

I feel that by the time our tots learn to "toddle", many are wearing heavy and restrictive shoes  that can impair their development and natural growth.

My angle - delivering my thoughts to you today, comes from a reasonable quota of background reading, some links to which can be found at the bottom of the page, my experience as a mother, a big handful of common sense and the very "back to basics", earthy ethos that my parents bestowed upon me.

A hippy? Possibly

There are a lot of people out there who are preaching to both new and seasoned runners about how they should shed their cushioned shoes and get low, light and often painfully minimal in order to improve running gait, efficiency and ultimately crush a PB.

This is not what this article is about... Yes, I'm an advocate of the "barefoot" movement and run in mostly minimal footwear because it suits me and I think it makes a whole lot of sense. However, I'm quite happy to step out on a Saturday night in a pair of heels or (for ultimate foot deformation) a nice pair of bad ass cow girl boots!

Grown ups are just that - they are "grown up". They can make decisions what to wear and more importantly, their feet are no longer developing. The majority of adults feet have been shaped into a variety of strange forms based upon the footwear they wore when their feet were still developing from birth to when they left home (or didn't) at 18 years old.
On that note...  How many of you can say the widest part of your foot is across the toes like that of a native who has never worn shoes?

How many of you suffer from ankle, knee, pelvic, hip, lower back, upper back, neck pain? Could this be down to the inefficiency of the foot to act as that spring, that took millions of years to evolve because your big toe (the main lever) is bent inwards and squashed against the next toe. Who knows!? 

And in fact some of todays adult population and certainly todays grandparents would have worn simple flat black pumps (remember those!?) and the likes of "Green Flash" for PE lessons. So although toes may have been shaped, the flexibilty of the shoe was there, unlike a lot of the trainers worn by kids today. So our kids today could end up even worse off...

I don't claim to be a scientist and I won't be quoting a lot of research although I believe there is growing evidence out there..

Should I get off my high horse? Oh... horses, yes whoever would have thought that people are realising barefoot is better for horses too. Many argue that the shod horse has changed its gait and lost its elegance, probably because somebody nailed a lumped of metal to its foot... Another story.

I'm not suggesting that your child has any such brutish association to his or her footwear but I believe there are a lot of shoes and trainers marketed at children that should quite frankly carry a health warning. Many have raised heels, supported arches, weigh far too much and deform the natural growth of the foot. Take a look at the photo below.....

So this is a 6 yr old childs foot who has worn unrestrictive shoes. Next to it on the right, is the "Airwalk" a random, cheap trainer similar to those that are for sale in sports shops, supermarkets and basically all the brand names apart from a small selection of brands who have different interests. To the left of his foot is a Merrell Barefoot Crush Glove and far left is the Merrell Flux Glove.

Its kind of obvious that the toes are going to get squished whilst wearing the "Airwalk". Whereas the toes are able to splay and remain unrestricted in the roomy toe box provided by the Merrells. So what happens if the child doesn't get to develop naturally? So what if his/her toes lose all ability to splay??

Jay Dicharry "Anatomy of Runners" defines the big toe as the ultimate lever to movement. Please consider that this is no more about running as it is about day to day movement... walking etc. So if the big toe is shaped inwards by footwear common sense says it may well compromise that lever and effect biomechanics further up the body.

When the child is wearing a padded shoe with a raised heel, he/she has to look at the ground more when running because there is zero preprioception - no feedback. A kid is more likely to fall over wearing a big heavy shoe than barefoot or minimal. Does your child fall over a lot? It's not their fault, maybe they have just lost the ground feel and feedback they need to stay agile.

Take a look at the photo below where I am twisting the Crush Glove... the more flexible the shoe the more the child will have a strong arch as it is allowed to develop and grow naturally. 

Below Archie tries to twist the "Airwalk"

And the Crush Glove, which is clearly more flexible.

Below I am folding the Flux Glove demonstrating how a childs foot would easily be able to flex on the run...

Raised heels and extensive cushioning will not help the feet develop into the strong spring from which the littles dudes are going to bound through life on!

I think I may have made my point and perhaps should wrap it up now...

Both Merrell and Vivobarefoot produce childrens minimal footwear. My son wears Vivo's for school and Merrells any other time, when he is not barefoot. The Merrells are reasonably priced and his Crush Gloves weigh in at 154g compared to a whopping 228g for the aforementioned Airwalk tots trainer. Even my size 7 Merrells weigh less at 168g!

Another option, although not as durable, is the neoprene beach shoe. Great for the summer months when you want a little protection for those tootsies.

And now to finish with a spot of humour!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPdb7ZDJKS4

References, Links and further reading :

The Big Book of Health and Fitness - Dr Phil Maffetone





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