The second part of the Panorama programme was about the claims of the running shoe industry.
I don't want say anything about the barefoot vs cushioning debate (that ground has been well tilled in every runners forum for the past few years). Instead I want to mention one of those coincidences that can happen when you are thinking about one subject: something totally unrelated can become relevant. In this case an article in the latest London Review of Books about D H Lawrence's attitude to products of the modern world, the organic vs inorganic, the authentic vs inauthentic.
A world away from the claims of Adidas and Nike you would assume, even if the essay title was 'Lady Chatterley's sneakers'. But no! Connie wore tennis shoes to meet Mellors in the woods and tennis shoes had crepe soles, which are at a less processed type of rubber product, i.e. not vulcanised, and at an interesting point in the continuum between natural and synthetic. It is therefore obvious that any literary scholar worth his salt would discuss the efforts of the Rubber Growers Associations to promote the use of crepe shoes in the 1920s (oh do keep up!).
Some of their advertising was quoted:
‘The cushion of “live” rubber lessens fatigue and makes walking a pleasure,’ the advertisements claimed, ‘adding hours to endurance and a spring to every step.’ For nothing had been done, chemically or otherwise, to ‘impair the natural live quality and nerve of the virgin product’.
When I read it I was taken right back to the Panorama programme and the realisation that in essence the sales pitch of sports shoes has hardly changed. It might have added a sciency gloss but we still want something to help our endurance and give us more spring and if the current promotions for barefoot running shoes are about anything they are about being more natural.
The companies are still selling the same dreams.