Of everything that has come across the running community, nothing has garnered as much as attention as the concept of running barefoot or natural running. Born to Run has dovetailed on all the marketing work that Nike had started with the Free a few years ago, albeit in a slightly different fashion. So it becomes a simple question: are we born to run? And we have a simple answer, yes, but once we start to quantify all sorts of other factors: age, injury history, environment, and weight, well... then the answers start to become a lot less clear cut.
Miwok indians that lived here in the San Francisco Bay Area had it, by all accounts, pretty easy. The climate was temperate, plentiful game to hunt, and rich plant life to pick from. They also didn't have a scrap of concrete 800 years ago to navigate. They didn't have cars to drive their children to and from school and piano practice and soccer games and ballet school and the gym. In short, they had an extremely different environment than we do today. The were on their feet constantly, likely barefoot or with a simple covering, and they were exercising all those small muscles and tendons in their feet from the first day that they could walk. They were also on dirt, lovely dirt, pine needles and leaves and plenty of nature's covering to help soften the blow of each foot fall.
Sadly, we have very few of those factors now. But what is funny is that while the idea of barefoot running (or minimally cushioned running) is being sold to the general public now, experienced runners have had those shoes basically forever in the form of road racing or cross country racing flats. And being experienced, those runners were usually in very good shape, with strong legs and solid form, traits that allowed them to use the slippers with fewer injuries!
For everyone that is being enticed with the concept of running like Tarahumara Indian I say this: it is not about buying a 5 toed shoe that will make you run like that Indian. It is taking the time to strengthen your legs and feet and developing the form that will allow you to run like the Indian. You can get more minimal shoes that will allow you to work on this form as you go, but it is work; work to strengthen to parts of your body that haven't been used that way since you were running around the yard barefoot when you were a kid. More than likely that was a lot of years ago for many of you. Running long distances barefoot may not be a reality for everyone, but if you want to get there then you need to be smart about.