This is a very small story, just an application of 'rules is rules', but it is interesting in the way shows how things are justified and how fragments of ideas can float around.
It really started with my recent post about running styles and the realisation that although I naturally midfoot/forefoot strike and I have in the past discovered the pleasure of running barefoot, I spend all my time in standard, neutral, cushioned shoes. I was thinking about this when I was pushing some weights and looking at other people of the treadmills. There was quite a lot of heavy thumping and some of the runners really slapped their feet down and my thoughts wandered to what it is that makes some people lighter on their feet than others. It has nothing to do with actual bodyweight, as the person with the loudest foot strike was quite slightly built, but must have something to do with trying to force things too hard. The essence of good style I thought must be to move along the surface as lightly as possible not to drive the feet into the ground.
I then thought it would be fun to try a little barefoot running so I left my shoes by the side of the treadmill and started running just wearing very lightweight socks . I had forgotten how good it is to feel the foot moving freely - the way the forefoot spreads-out when it lands and then how the heel lightly touches the surface before it is lifted-off. I was quite enjoying myself, feeling a little bit looser and playing about running at different speeds, when one of the members of staff came over and told me to stop as it was mandatory to run in trainers.
"Why?" I asked
"Health and safety" was the reply
"What am I being protected from?"
"Things falling on your feet and you could catch your socks and be thrown off the machine."
But I think he was a bit embarrassed about these reasons and his heart was not into trying to describe the scenarios where these things might happen. He then shifted ground and suggested that running barefoot was not good for you.
I was both a little shocked and really interested by this because he was one of the trainers whose job is to advise on exercise. He ought to know better or at least have some good reasons to back up such a statement. He didn't and so I said a little about how you absorbed the forces when you landed on your forefoot and how lots of people think it is a good way to run.
"Ah forefoot running. That's Pose running and a bit different" he said
"No, all Pose runners land on their forefoot but not all forefoot runners are Pose runners."
This is really quite interesting because it shows the power of a brand name and the way it can become fixed in the mind of someone who only has a peripherally interest in the subject. I am sure that this trainer was expert in all of the machines in the gym, weight training and general fitness regimes but probably for him running is only another form of cardio vascular exercise. If so he would not pay close attention to issues within the running community but he would be aware of things that impinged on the fitness industry , so obviously Pose has a profile and has made some impact. It is more widely known than I thought. it is amazing how things can ripple out.
Anyway we started to talk a little about running styles but that was not really the point so we reverted to the main topic of me running without shoes.
I had no problems with stopping. The man was doing his job and I had no desire to give him a hard time or mount any sort of high horse. It is one of the rules of the gym that you have to wear appropriate footwear at all times (probably to stop people exercising in boots or flip flops) and that is all there is to it.
I wonder though about the thinking behind such rules. Probably it is something along the lines of:
Trainers are designed to cushion the impact of running
Therefore they are protective
We need to do everything we can to protect our customers from injury
Therefore protective footwear must be worn.
The logic might be totally flawed but at least it is coherent in an institutional sort of way.
Luckily outdoors none of this matters and running is not about thinking in an institutional way. It is about listening to the best advice you can find, hearing from other peoples experiences and then trying things out for yourself. It is about not being proscriptive.