Abebe Bikala ran a marathon barefoot

The marathon is really a challenging event; it is 26.2 miles of hard running. It can be hard on the body, especially the feet which is why all marathon runners spend so much consideration to exactly what is on their feet. Marathoners spend a lot of time deciding on the appropriate running shoes and plenty of money is involved in running shoes. Back at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, Abebe Bikala from Ethiopia arrived for the marathon where there were no shoes left in the teams gear that would fit him, so he ran the marathon barefoot and went on to win the gold medal. This is widely praised as a tremendous accomplishment. In recent years there has been a community of athletes that are implying the running footwear is not all they are promoted to be and are advocating that running should be done barefoot, the same as nature made us for. After all, we were not given birth to with shoes and historical humans had to run great distances barefoot to live as animals needed to be hunted on foot over great distances. Running footwear are really only a relatively recent creation.

Those who advocate the barefoot way of running like to point to the achievements of Abebe Bikala as even more validation that we do not need running shoes. There are certainly many other justifications both for and against barefoot running, with hardly any scientific evidence underpinning it. While Abebe Bikala obtaining the gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics without running shoes obviously suggest that it is possible, what those who like to tout his achievements as proof often leave out that he later went on to win the gold medal as well as set a world record in the marathon at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games. Abebe Bikala was able to set the world record on this occasion wearing running shoes; to put it differently he had the ability to run faster when he was using running shoes. We may well have evolved to run without running shoes, but we also evolved in an environment prior to concrete and hard surfaces emerged. While the successes of Abebe were incredible, using him as evidence that barefoot is better does not stack up to critique.