Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

The History of Running – Have We Come Full Circle?

Posted on September 30, 2013 by Daniel Lofthouse

Abebe Bikila was known for running marathons barefoot, including his victory in the 1960 Olympics.

Of all the sports and exercises in the history of the world, the most fundamental and common is undoubtedly running. The prizes in the very first footraces were the largest. In the first footraces ever it was a race to elude predators. It is easy to visualize early man going into a sprint to reach the safety of a cave or fire while pursued by a sabre tooth tiger or equally ferocious animal. While hard to call it a sport with those stakes, it is none the less undoubtedly the origin of the sport of running.

As the centuries went past the first Marathon was thought to be run around 500 BC and the survival skill of running evolved into a sport. Since those earliest days the question of what is the best footgear to run in has been asked, answered, and refined hundreds of times. The sandals laced up around the ankles protected the feet from rough terrain but the earliest Olympiads foreswore those often times for bare feet to save those few ounces in weight. That is not dissimilar to the last 100 years where shedding of weight while preserving protection and support has become a billion dollar industry highlighted by the likes of Nike, Adidas, and New Balance among many others.

The technology and science has gone from the basics of protecting the soles of feet and proving traction, to increasing cushioning and comfort, to literally having loaded springs that artificially increase stride and speed.  Throughout all this advancement in technology, there were still famous runners like Abebe Bikila that won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympic Games while running the marathon barefooted.

In the end, every athlete or casual runner decides for themselves the proper balance comfort, weight, and support in choosing foot wear. From a track meet to the local park you will see a full gambit of shoes on the running feet from those where it is obvious style and color were the first concern to the ultra-sleek and smooth lines of the $200 running shoes. Strangely, the results of a race are seldom identified by a look at the shoes.


Five fingered running shoes seem to be the technology answer to running barefoot.

While the bare foot runners that all humans started out as are now rare enough to deserve mention in the highest levels of the sport, a new trend that is reminiscent of the barefoot runners is appearing across various venues. The five fingered running shoes (that would be more aptly named five toed) that are little more than a protective glove over a barefoot are appearing with some frequency. The claim is simple – they allow a more natural gait and better natural balance than the modern shoes we have grown used to. It seems many think that the best running can be attained by a natural unencumbered foot once again.

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