This weekend I enjoyed a relaxing bike ride through Prospect Park, spotting my girlfriend as she trained for the New York marathon. Riding at a runner’s pace — slow enough to allow for plenty of observation — I noticed that many people (at least 20 by my count) were running in either Vibram slippers, leather strappy sandles or no shoes at all (bare feet on pavement). Three years ago, I’d have counted these poorly equipped runners as insane (do you know what you could step on while running barefoot through Prospect Park?) – but this past weekend I instantly recognized these barefoot runners as followers of the latest running trend – running without shoes.

I haven’t read “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, but I have seen his TED talk (you can watch it here: Clearly he has seen some success in spreading his ideas – as evidenced by my observation this weekend. But in his case, I’m afraid that the simple part of his message (run without shoes) may have outshined the most beneficial portion of his teaching.

Let me explain. “Run without shoes” is an extremely simple message – and one that you don’t need to read his book to understand. This simplicity has helped contribute to the speed at which the idea has spread. However – what McDougall actually advocates is getting rid of your shoes AND completely changing the way you run, both physically and emotionally** (running more on the balls of your feet rather than your heels). However, what I observed this weekend is that no fewer than half of the people who were barefoot running, were still running the way everyone else was – on their heels. They had taken the simple part of McDougall’s message – but they have ignored the rest of the message, which requires a complete makeover to their running form (and is arguably the most important part).

Simple, viral messages can be a double edged sword. It’s simplicity that makes them spread fast – but the simple part of the message is frequently only part of what is needed to benefit.

I believe this phenomenon was also in place with the spreading of the Atkins diet – removing carbs from your daily food intake (the simple part of the message) leaves you eating an unbalanced and inadequate diet on a regular basis.

This note added by my beautiful girlfriend/blog editor Miranda Lanzillotti
** After reading his book and having it freshly ingrained in my head, I think there needs to be more explanation on this thought. McDougall advocates for a complete overhaul of running altogether. Running has become commercial in the modern world — from the outfits/shoes to the cash-incentives and medals. It’s more about the money and competition (and fat burn) than it is about survival/a way of life. So, in addition to running on the balls of your feet rather than your heels, it’s important to keep your torso/back/neck/shoulders straight and your head erect, take small quick steps instead of really long strides, take in your surroundings/try to get lost in what’s around you rather than focus on how many minutes you’ve gone and how fast. His overall point is that running should be fun and effortless for humans, but overtime we’ve destroyed our ability to do this one thing that kept us alive and successful for millions of years.

Miranda is running the NYC marathon to raise money for Parkinson’s disease research. Click here to see her Team Fox page and support her efforts:

The Danger of Simple Viral Messages
Tagged on: